June 10, 2010

A confident candidate

Dedicated volunteers, grassroots campaigning played a big part in LePage's victory

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage's black Toyota Avalon came rumbling through the dust on the warehouse road, slowed to a crawl and then stopped.

click image to enlarge

VICTORY: Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage claps as supporters surround him when it was announced that he won the primary for governor late Tuesday night in Waterville. At right is LePage's wife Ann.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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LePage stepped out, smiling and looking refreshed, despite having had no sleep at all Tuesday night after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary.

It was Wednesday afternoon and he had just come out of a meeting at the Marden's Surplus & Salvage warehouse in Winslow where he met with 30 managers to discuss, among other things, what happens next.

"I'll be taking a leave (of absence from Marden's); we just have to work out the details so everything is covered," he said.

According to unofficial results, LePage won 37 percent of the Republican vote over six other candidates. Les Otten placed second, with 17.4 percent. LePage now faces state Senate President Libby Mitchell, who won the Democratic nomination Tuesday, and three independent candidates.

LePage, 61, was confident, just as he has been throughout his campaign, that he will be Maine's next governor.

"The people opposing me may have political experience, but they don't have what I can bring, and that is fiscal responsibility," he said.

LePage, mayor of Waterville since 2003 and a two-term city councilor before that, touted his record during the campaign of being the only Republican candidate who has led a Maine government.

He reorganized city hall, lowered taxes, increased the city's fund balance from $1 million to $10 million -- and did it all as a Republican mayor presiding over a largely Democratic city and City Council.

LePage said he was overwhelmed by the support he received, both during the campaign, and on Wednesday morning as he started his workday.

"I went into Eric's Restaurant on College Avenue (in Waterville) this morning to do radio and television interviews and everybody stood up and applauded," he said. "At Tim Horton's, I got a standing ovation. I went in to get a coffee and it took 45 minutes."

How he did it

So, how did a relatively unknown (until recently, that is) Waterville mayor and manager of a surplus-and-salvage chain go from being homeless at age 11 to being in the running for the governor's office?

Supporters say it's a combination of things. Among them: his heartwarming life story, financial acumen, down-to-earth nature and desire to help Maine prosper.

"I think he was the right man with the right message at the right time," his wife, Ann, said Wednesday. "I honestly believe the people embraced him and they just took it and ran with it. They just believed in him."

Mainers, she said, are excited about her husband's fresh approach and proven record.

"Paul is a straight shooter," she said. "He's going to tell you like it is. He won't run from a question and he will answer it as honestly as he can. You might not like the answer, but you're going to respect him."

There's no question that volunteers also played a great part in his victory, according to both LePage and his chief of staff, John Morris, a West Gardiner resident and former Waterville police chief.

"It's because of their hard work that Paul is on the road to the Blaine House," Morris said. "We spent less than $200,000 on this campaign. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers working 20 and 30 hours a week. How do you put a dollar value on those enthusiastic people?"

One such volunteer is Scott Van Orman of Sidney, longtime friend of LePage and a retired Sappi employee. Van Orman says the key to winning the nomination was the network of volunteers who mobilized at a moment's notice. In the last 3 1/2 weeks before the primary, they knocked on more than 27,000 doors, spoke with people -- and left a 17-by-22-inch "letter" explaining LePage's experience, life story and focus on welfare reform, education reform and regulatory reform, Van Orman said.

(Continued on page 2)

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