Ethan: Your man, Gov. Paul LePage, officially launched his re-election campaign this past Election Day. Strange day to choose, don’t you think?
Phil: Yes, a little. But I like the idea of “one year to go!”
Ethan: Plus, my apologies that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud stole so much of your thunder by addressing the long-standing rumors of his being gay. Just an unfortunate coincidence, I assure you.
Phil: Yeah right. That said, I will give him credit for a smart political move that certainly diluted LePage’s media moment. So, oh wise one, what’s your take on what LePage has to do to get re-elected?
Ethan: Re-elected? Man, that is tough. The disdain for him from almost everyone but Republicans is as deep as I have ever seen. From his policies to his shoot-from-the-lip style, it is hard to know where to start.
Phil: Do you think your party has enough footage to remind voters of his gaffes come next October?
Ethan: October? We have enough material to run a TV series called “LePage’s Greatest Hits” that would run from July without repeating an episode.
Phil: So if you were a Republican (don’t go into convulsions) in charge of LePage’s re-election (Brent Littlefield, don’t go into convulsions) how would you march to victory?
Ethan: Think before you speak.
Phil: Certainly, his campaign cannot afford any more gaffes in the next year.
Ethan: Or, at a minimum, he needs to learn to apologize and back off when he makes one. People can forgive, but they expect you to take responsibility.
Phil: Fair enough. I do think that his campaign kickoff event in Augusta featured the combination he needs — women, Democrats and independents, just enough of them to get to 37 percent. And having First Lady Ann LePage visible and vocal will help greatly.
Ethan: Yes, it was smart to have a female Democrat introduce him. Not because many other democrats will join his team, but because it makes him seem more palatable to disgruntled moderate Republicans and independents who like bipartisanship.
Phil: Yes. Plus, his strength on the issue of domestic violence and fiscal discipline is key to those groups.
Ethan: In all honesty, he doesn’t really need a lot of votes other than his base. In order for him to get to 37-40 percent of the vote, LePage needs 90 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of independents, and 5 percent of Democrats and Greens.
Phil: That may be the correct math, yet the path to re-election will be strewn with things that stick, sting or bite. LePage needs to keep his support in the 2nd Congressional District and with Franco-Americans. Michaud needs these voters too, so expect to see them both spending a lot of time north of Bangor.
Ethan: LePage’s problem is that he needs to begin talking about what he sees as the good things he has accomplished. He has spent three years beating up the state, Democrats, the Legislature, unions, environmentalists, taxes, etc. that people are feeling pretty down about our direction.
Phil: Maybe from your view. But the facts are that he created 7,000 jobs since taking office and reduced the unemployment rate a full percent. That is remarkable compared to the 52 jobs created in the decades before he was elected.
Ethan: My view? Recent polling shows that only 30 percent of Maine people feel the economy will improve in the next year. That’s a tough number for an incumbent who claims that jobs are his No. 1 concern.
Phil: Look, no doubt he must start selling his many accomplishments. He must begin building some hope and tap into Ronald Reagan’s famous refrain, “It is morning in America again.” For people to give him a second term, they must feel that the first term was successful and that there is hope for the future. President Barack Obama is making that hard, but we’ll save that for another day.
Ethan: And you criticize me for blaming George W. Bush too much…
Phil: That said, he will also have to spend some time defining Michaud. Mike has never faced statewide ads run that challenged his votes and revealed how much he has grown government and voted in lockstep with team Pelosi.
Ethan: Sad, but I expect you are correct.
Phil: Don’t pretend like your side won’t be going negative as well.
Ethan: My side doesn’t need to. LePage brings it on himself.
Phil: And through the Pingree Press Herald, which hasn’t found a negative story about LePage it didn’t like. One interesting dynamic is how LePage plays Eliot Cutler. I know that he is not fond of the man, but in reality, he needs Cutler to rise in the polls in order to defeat Michaud.
Ethan: Yes, but I think Cutler is now angling more toward the right. I think he understands that Mike is stronger with Dems than Libby Mitchell. I think he sees his only path toward contention being disgruntled Republicans who will never vote for Mike and independents who are the same.
Phil: Cutler angling to the right? Mr. Jimmy Carter appointee who has spent his life working for Democrats? How does he claim the less government ground now? If his strategy is to steal votes from LePage, I suspect third place will be his position this time out.
Ethan: Perhaps. Look, I am not one of these folks who believes that LePage can’t win this race. In fact, I remind my friends every day that Maine has not ousted an incumbent governor since before I was born. Those are tough odds that certainly favor your guy.
Phil: Agree. Yet to be re-elected LePage needs to run the gauntlet of what stings, sticks and bites. If he does, he wins.