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Paul LePage Is Back. And Maine Is Terrified.

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LEWISTON, Maine — Remember Paul LePage? Sure you do. He’s the former governor of Maine who has called himself, accurately enough, “Donald Trump before Donald Trump” — a hot-headed, vulgar and sometimes erratic figure who regularly made international headlines for doing things like celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day by telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” rushing up to a television crew at the State House to volunteer that a state senator liked “to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” and leaving an unhinged, obscenity-filled message for a Democratic legislator which he said he wanted recorded and released “because I am after you.”

He joyfully mused about bombing newspaper offices and shooting rivals, cartoonists, and lawmakers. His final term was spent tangling with legislative leaders of his own party, having his vetoes of bipartisan legislation and budgets overturned, and watching his handpicked successor get walloped by Janet Mills, the Democratic attorney general with whom he had regularly sparred.

When term limits ended his governorship in 2018, he didn’t just leave office; he left Maine. “I’m going to retire and go to Florida,” he proclaimed just before Election Day, to the relief not only of Democrats but much of his own party. “I’m done with politics. I’ve done my eight years. It’s time for somebody else.”

But now: He’s back. Making good on years of threats, he filed papers last month to run for his old office against Mills, a popular incumbent backed by Democratic legislative majorities whose approval ratings have generally run more than 10 points higher than LePage’s best ratings during his eight years in office. And on Wednesday evening, he held a kickoff rally at the Augusta Civic Center, touting his fiscal austerity and casting his opponent as a tax-and-spend liberal who’d disrupted the economy and the future of schoolchildren by imposing lockdowns and closures during the pandemic. "May the Almighty give us the strength and wisdom to overcome what divides us," he concluded.

In Maine, this has sent tremors through the political system — turning the state into something of a preview of what may happen to U.S. presidential politics if Donald Trump jumps back in.

While LePage has been in Florida, Maine politics has returned to a semblance of normality. The legislature passes bipartisan bills. The heads of state agencies and departments field lawmakers’ questions. Mills sometimes takes positions that upset conservatives or progressives — or even both — but she hasn’t been making headlines worldwide for regularly saying shocking and ghoulish things.

Voters here are still dealing with a resurgence of the coronavirus and the accompanying disruption of the labor market, which is filling hospital intensive care units and has forced restaurants, nursing homes and retailers to cut back hours or close entirely. Here on the ground, the 2022 election still seems far away for most Mainers.

But inside Maine politics, even as elected officials try to remain focused on recovering from a crisis that has racked all levels of government, storm winds are picking up. Interviews with strategists, former officials and journalists portrayed a state house rife with anxiety about what a LePage run will look like now that Trump has altered what is acceptable in mainstream politics, even more broadly and deeply than LePage himself did. There are Republicans, too, who are worried about the further damage a LePage run could do to their party, just as it was beginning to heal itself from the ruptures his campaign and administration provoked. LePage has declined to speak to the media in these early stages of the campaign and didn’t respond to POLITICO Magazine’s requests.

But there’s also a countercurrent of excited expectation among the former governor’s myriad, diehard fans, which is........

© Politico

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