You don’t need a crystal ball to divine LePage’s campaign tactics

Did you hear the one about the Maine political operative who deleted embarrassing material from his boss’s Wikipedia page?

One of the oddest moments in 2013 was when Maine House Republican Leader Ken Fredette said that he opposed Medicaid expansion because he has a “man’s brain.” To Fredette, a supermajority of Maine legislators and citizens, which includes both women and men, evidently lack that crucial piece of equipment. That’s why they support a policy that enables about 70,000 Mainers to get health insurance, prevents deaths, illnesses and bankruptcies, and saves taxpayers money.

Fredette later apologized for his remark, but someone wanted it disappeared. Edits were made on the online encyclopedia entry for Fredette and all references to “man’s brain” were deleted. As Mike Tipping reported, “The edits began anonymously, logged only to the general IP address for the Legislature, but were then continued by someone with the username Dsorensen85. David Sorensen is Fredette’s communications director.” The same staffer edited the Wikipedia pages of Republican legislators Alexander Willette and Matthew Pouliot.

This is the sort of thing that has earned other political operatives time in ethics training. But it is more than that.

Scrubbing Wikipedia is a good metaphor for part of what’s coming this election season, as Republican campaign operatives will try to make voters forget all the problematic aspects of Gov. Paul LePage’s governorship.

What they’d have us not remember goes beyond the arresting comments from the governor, such as when he compared the IRS’s involvement in Obamacare to the Gestapo, claimed Maine high-schoolers have to take a special college admissions test, and asserted that the purportedly Vaseline-ignoring Sen. Troy Jackson should “let someone with a brain come down here and do some good work.”

The LePage campaign would have Mainers forget about his administration putting a chemical industry lobbyist in charge of a program evaluating what chemicals were safe. One result: the expert overseeing the program was removed and sent to a low-level job. As DEP commissioner, Patricia Aho’s actions let her former firm’s client, Florida Light and Power, have greater control over the level of water in several lakes, thus reducing the property values for Mainers living on those lakes.

Also not to be recalled will be the visit the governor made to unemployment insurance hearing officers, now being investigated by the federal government.

And, of course, there’s much more, including when LePage barred administration officials from testifying to the Legislature.

What will the campaign focus on?

It will promote the tax cuts which led to shifting costs to property owners, the welfare policies which found little fraud and cost more than they save, and the decrease in unemployment rates mirroring national trends.

Not ignored will be the product of a $1 million no-bid contract evaluating MaineCare, to come from someone whose work was rebuked by the Pennsylvania auditor general. The campaign will use the Alexander Group’s report as fodder.

And the LePage campaign will devote a good deal of money and energy to attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

Numerous polls show that Michaud is seen more favorably than the other candidates and so various Republican groups will endeavor to tear him down. Whether the ads come from the Republican Governors Association, the Republican National Committee, the LePage campaign or other sources, they’ll slam Michaud and try to remake his image.

And, while most Mainers say that Michaud’s decision to come out doesn’t make any difference, slightly more say this makes it less likely for them to support him than say their support is now more likely. So it wouldn’t be surprising for a dark money group, but not the LePage campaign organization, to run ads that subtly reference Michaud’s sexual orientation. He’d be called a San Francisco Democrat, and shown in poses and labeled with words evoking gay stereotypes. When others call this out, they’ll bring more attention to the issue and will be called too sensitive.

Like 2010, the LePage campaign will probably ignore Eliot Cutler. They’ll hope they can push Michaud’s poll numbers down, leading to a situation like 2010, when numerous anti-LePage voters — but not enough — moved toward Cutler in an attempt to prevent a LePage win. The LePage campaign, knowing they can’t prevail in a two-way race, is banking on a repeat.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.