Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage held the first major appearance of his third run for the state's top political office Wednesday.
In front of a crowd of hundreds of supporters, LePage, a Republican elected to two terms who served as governor from 2010 to 2018, laid out a vision for his third campaign behind a sign saying "Move Maine Forward."
"We've reached a very dangerous track, we've run into a fork in the road, we cannot continue to go down this road," he began, in the first part of roughly 30 minutes of remarks, most of which was scathing criticism of policies of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
Mills served as Maine's attorney general while LePage was in office, and the pair frequently sparred. She is widely considered a major political nemesis of the former governor.
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"Maine is heading backwards under Janet Mills," said LePage, as he outlined his belief that pandemic restrictions Mills enacted during a COVID-19 state of emergency negatively impacted children's learning in schools and hurt businesses across the state. "She unnecessarily penalized our children and jeopardized our economic future."
LePage also slammed Mills for applying federal pandemic money to pay for state-level programs in Maine and touted overhauls of Maine's welfare system and other government programs that occurred during his time in office.
"I proved I am a reformer, I do not accept status quo, as you probably remember," he said.
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Meanwhile, Mills, who has organized a campaign for a second term, has not held her own major kickoff event yet.
However, her re-election team wasted no time hitting back at LePage with a written statement saying that, among other successes, her leadership expanded health care to tens of thousands of people, and she has handled the pandemic well given Maine's overall low COVID-19 death rates and high number of vaccinations.
"The stakes of this election could not be higher," the closing line of the statement read. "Now is not the time to go backward."
As far as the crowd who came to see LePage at the Augusta Civic Center were concerned, the former governor is the right person not only to beat Mills, but to lead Maine.
"I love Paul LePage," said Dena Worster, a supporter from the Bangor area. "I know that he knows how to straighten out messes, and we're in a big mess now."
"He's proved himself," said Greg Havener, another LePage supporter from Friendship, Maine.
However, even LePage fans admit, the former governor could face an intense challenge should he be formally selected by voters as the Republican nominee to face Mills in the general election next year, even though he already has the full backing of Maine's GOP and the endorsement of recently re-elected Republican U.S. Senator, Susan Collins, with whom he has not always agreed.
"He'll be attacked, I think," said Havener.
"He has to have the support," said Worster.