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LePage Suprises GOP Field
06/09/2010 02:52 AM ET   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Many Maine Republicans downplayed the tea party movement when some of its backers co-opted their convention platform in May, but when all the Primary ballots were counted Tuesday night, the Republican gubernatorial candidate most aligned with tea partiers had emerged victorious. The nomination of Waterville Mayor Paul LePage surprised many in the GOP, but the number of moderate Republicans in the seven-way race gave him an advantage.

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His biography reads like a made-for-TV movie: one of 18 children in an impoverished family who grew up speaking French; homeless at age 11 and living on the streets of Lewiston shining shoes for two years before he found adoptive parents. Paul LePage is a self-made man who put himself through college to earn an MBA and went on to become the general manager of Marden's and a three-term mayor of Waterville. After speaking to supporters at his victory party last night, LePage was already looking ahead to November.

"It's not about Republican. It's not about Democrat. It's not about whether you're conservative or liberal. It's about who is going to have the best approach and who has the heart to get out there and help Maine people."

LePage campaigned on a platform of limited government, welfare reform, including a state residence requirement and tax cuts. He opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, believes creationism should be taught in school and remains skeptical of global warming. And while some GOP faithful may have thought LePage could edge out his competitiors, no one predicted he would have entrepreneur and second place finisher Les Otten conceding before midnight, especially after Otten sunk more than two million dollars of his own money into his campaign.

"I certainly told Paul this evening that I would do what I could to support him", Otten said. " I can speak for myself and my voice, I hope, will be heard by others. It's time for us to make the changes in Maine that are long overdo and I want to help see that come to fruition."

Otten says he has no regrets about financing the bulk of his campaign. And while he was urging his ballroom-size crowd to back LePage in the general election, at least one other moderate Republican in the race was less than enthusiastic about the results.

"I don't think that Paul represents a majority of the Republican Party but he represents a significant plurality of the party", says State Senator Peter Mills, who finished third in the race.

Mills says the outcome demonstrates why other states have run-off elections.

"It's abundantly clear that what happened was that the right wing of the party consolidated around LePage and then everybody else divided their vote essentially three ways: among me, Abbott and Otten and that gave him that significant victory."

Steve Abbott, who left his job as a longtime chief of staff for U.S. Senator Susan Collins, credits LePage and his supporters for running an effective campaign. LePage supporters such as Rachel Anderson of Benton and Bob Gauthier say their candidate's homespun philosophy, fiscal conservatism and working-class roots are precisely why they are drawn to him.

"I'm excited about the LePage campaign because Paul LePage is an everyday American, not a career politician who looks out for every Mainer who works", says Anderson.

"Paul just has a presence about himself that I like", said Gauthier. "We need strong leadership in this state right now during the times we're in. We really need good leadership and I believe Paul's gonna do it."

LePage says he hasn't yet figured out a strategy as his campaign takes a big leap forward. But whatever he does he'll be sticking to his populist message.



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