Maine 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud greets supporters in Millinocket on Election Day in 2012.
A former state lawmaker who served as president of the Maine Senate, and a longtime papermaker from Medway who still belongs to his local union, Congressman Michaud says likes his current job in Washington. He's got high favorability ratings and he's the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which deals with issues that are among those closest to his heart. His congressional seat is considered "safe," something not too many candidates can say with confidence.
So, it's a lot to give up for a run for governor. But in a telephone interview with MPBN, Michaud says the final decision won't be about him - even though he sounds like he's already made up his mind.
"Yes, it is a lot to give up and it was a very, very tough choice, because where I am ranking under the Veterans' Affairs Committee I would have been able to do a lot over the years," he says. "But it's not about me. It's about where I can best serve the people of the state of Maine. And we need someone in Augusta that has proven leadership that can work on both sides of the aisle with Republicans and Democrats, and also can work with diverse interest groups as well."
Early polling has given Gov. Paul LePage the edge in a potential three-way race with Independent Eliot Cutler, who has also formed an exploratory campaign, and Michaud.
LePage has yet to make his decision official but he has registered as a candidate with the Maine Ethics Commission, which gives his campaign the ability to raise and spend money on his behalf. LePage's campaign spokesman, Brent Littlefield, says Michaud's formation of an "exploratory" committee is a cautious political move.
"Candidates that form exploratory committees are usually doing it for political reasons, trying to save their current political elected office instead of actually showing a true interest in fixing the state or fixing the issues that are presented," Littlefield says. "Governor LePage first ran for governor when no one said he could win because he was passionate about acutally fixing the problems in the state, and that's why he's been able to lower the unemployment rate, why he's been able to improve Maine's economy and why voters will re-elect him next year."
Eliot Cutler released a statement saying he welcomes Michaud's entry into the race, even though he thinks it will leave Maine weaker in Washington. "Maine needs a governor who will put the people of Maine first, not the political parties and the special interests on the left and the right that finance and control them," Cutler said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Wood takes a different view. He says he's disappointed "in that it offers little of value to Maine voters...In the midst of an economic crisis and governmental chaos in Augusta, the last thing we need is more announcements or the formation of another exploratory committee," Wood said.
But try telling that to an already jubilant Ben Grant, chair of the Maine Democratic Party. "Today is just a tremendously exciting day for the Democratic Party, for Mike Michaud, but really for the people of Maine," Grant says. "We have an opportunity now to elect a real working class champion, someone who has spent his whole career working hard to earn the respect of people from both sides of the aisle, and I think that's exactly what Augusta needs right now."
Grant says he is not worrying about a repeat of 2010, in which LePage won with less than 40 percent of the vote, with Cutler coming in a close second and Democrat Libby Mitchell a distant third place. "We have the best candidate and we're going full-steam ahead," Grant says.
In addition to LePage and Wood, two other candidates have also registered. They are David Slagger, a Green independent from Kenduskeag, and Lee Schultheis, an unenrolled candidate from Freeport.
Michaud, meanwhile, has created a Web site, Michaud2014.com, and says he expects to make his decision official sometime in the next couple of months.
Photo: Nick Woodward