The LePage campaign called it the "freedom train" and more than 80 people paid between $100 and $750 a pop to accompany the candidate on whistle stops in Wiscasset, Brunswick and Bath and dine on brownbag lunches packed by members of Maine's Tea Party. In an interview with several reporters between stops, LePage said he didn't know much about the movement, even though the recently adopted state GOP platform is backed by the Tea Party and includes language to (among other things) restore Constitutional Law as the basis for the judiciary; seal the border; reassert the principle that ‘Freedom of Religion’ does not mean ‘Freedom from Religion; eliminate the Department of Education, the Federal Reserve and investigate collusion between government and industry in the - quote - "global warming myth."
Susan Sharon: "How much of those values are part of what you're about and what your administration will embrace?"
"I don't know," said LePage. "I don't know much about the Tea Party except if they support me, I support them. I will tell you this: I had agreed to go to a forum recently put on by the NAACP and the next morning and I see headlines: 'Tea Partiers are Racist' so I called em up, and it was put out by the NAACP, and I said I will not participate. I am not interested in talking racism."
What LePage is interested in talking about is smaller government, lower taxes, cutting welfare and regulatory reform. At each of his stops he told enthusiastic gatherings of 50 or more waiting supporters that his administration will be based on three guiding principles:
"One: common sense; science and best available technology and send all those liberal Democrats to the unemployment line," said LePage to applause, cheering from the gathered crowd.
It's unclear what science LePage has in mind. He's been quoted as saying global warming is a scam. Privately with reporters LePage also took a jab at the Maine Democratic Party's campaign director Arden Manning by saying that Manning had called him unfit to run for governor because he is French-Canadian and Catholic. He says the comments were made in unspecified blogs on the Internet.
"He calls me a Creationist. I tried it, though," said LePage. "I went to the river and tried to part it and it didn't move. I tried to walk across my pool and I sunk (laughs)."
Manning denies ever suggesting that LePage's ethnicity or religion makes him unqualified for office and his party is now asking LePage for an apology. Manning points out that Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud from Maine's 2nd Congressional District is also French Canadian and Catholic. But Manning acknowledges questioning some statements LePage has made during the campaign, including his answer to this question asked of all the GOP candidates during an MPBN primary debate.
Jennifer Rooks: "Do you believe in creationism and do you think it should be taught in Maine public schools?"
Paul LePage: "I would say the more education you have, the more knowledge you have, the better person you are. And I believe yes...and yes."
Arden Manning says he's never criticized LePage's faith, but maintains that creationism should not be taught in public school.
"Creationism and Catholicism are too very different things," said Manning. "Creationism belongs in Sunday school and science belongs in the classroom. We have criticized the fact that Paul LePage has said he would like to teach creationism in the science classroom."
During the weekend train trip, LePage attempted to clarify his position. He now says he never suggested creationism should be taught in public school.
"I never said such a thing," said LePage. "That's what he said. Quite frankly, until he brought up the term creationism I never heard it. I never hear it in my whole life. I'm 61 years old. I never heard the word. Do I believe that we came from monkeys? Yes. Do I believe in God? Yes. Does that make me a creationist?"
While LePage's weekend whistle stop campaign swing attracted many people who identified themselves as members of the Tea Party, it also attracted a few Republican faithful such as heiress and former GOP congressional candidate Linda Bean. And it brought out some other supporters.
"My name is Clark Leach and I'm from Winslow and I'm with the group We Are Change. It's a global organization dedicated to exposing the truth about some of
the frauds that have been imposed on the world and the American people in particular," said Leach.
Included on that agenda, says Leach, is exposing the truth about the 9-11 disaster, global warming and the federal reserve. Like many who bought tickets on the train, Leach says he likes that LePage is down-to-earth, speaks the truth and has a backbone. During his last stop in Bath, LePage told the crowd that his Democratic opponent Libby Mitchell had recently celebrated her 70th birthday.
"I'm a little concerned about her," LePage said. "I think we should send her home."
Later, LePage was asked if he meant that Mitchell was too old to be governor.
"No, no. I don't think it's too old," said LePage. "I just think at 70 she earned time to relax and put up her feet and I would like to do that for her in November."
In response to that Mitchell borrows a famous quote from Republican President Ronald Reagan. She says she won't exploit 61-year-old LePage's "youth and inexperience."