Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, running for a third nonconsecutive term, is under fire after a threat he made was caught on video.
The confrontation captures LePage, known for his bluster, threatening to "deck" a Maine Democratic Party staffer, adding, "you're going down."
The interaction happened on Aug. 14 at the Madawaska Acadian Festival in far northern Maine.
"Enough is enough," LePage is heard saying after crossing a mud puddle, carrying a donut, joining a small group of supporters. "Get six feet away or I'm gonna deck you."
Pointing at the camera, the former governor then says, "Come into my space and you're going down."
According to a spokesperson for LePage's 2022 campaign, he has not officially commented on the incident, but he felt the Democratic staffer was getting more vocal and closer to him after recording LePage at similar events.
Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine GOP, defended LePage's actions in a statement sent to NECN and NBC 10 Boston.
"In a world where we just saw someone attempt to stab Lee Zeldin and Salman Rushdie forced to fight for his life after being stabbed multiple times, it's no surprise that Paul LePage was unhappy with this paid Democratic Party Staffer getting so close in such a sneaky manner," the statement read.
The Maine Democratic Party said the person recording the video is on staff as a research associate. Executive Director Drew Gattine criticized LePage's behavior.
"Paul LePage was, is, and always will be a bully. When he was governor, he often threatened people with violence and with the power of his office — I saw it firsthand," Gattine said. "This latest threatening outburst just goes to show that he's the same as he's always been. Maine people deserve better than Paul LePage and his hatred and division."
Gattine received a threatening, profanity-filled voicemail from LePage years ago.
"I'm after you," he told Gattine in the message, which he said was in response to the Democrat calling him racist.
Defending the voicemail, LePage later told reporters he wished it were 1825 so he could face off with Gattine in a duel and point a gun "right between his eyes."
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As for what LePage could do moving forward, Phil Harriman, a Republican political analyst in Maine, said the incident shows the former governor should be more prepared for something unexpected to happen and not lose his cool — especially after saying he would be a different person following his past bombast.
"Gov. LePage has said in this opportunity to be governor, we're going to see 'Paul LePage 2.0,' the diplomatic, ambassador-type style of leading," Harriman said.
Whether the person filming LePage had intended to be intrusive or was simply dodging the same mud puddle, Harriman said, "The governor, of course, has to be the one to demonstrate, no matter what, he's willing to turn the other cheek for the greater good of other citizens."
"Hopefully, there's a candidate in this election cycle, or one to come, that demonstrates if you don't engage in this sort of mud wrestling, the voters will take notice," he said.
Harriman pointed to the years and years of continuing aggressive and chaotic political dialogue between parties.
"I think the reason it continues is because, so far, it works," he said. "The candidate who does that, who can remain calm and stick to the facts and let the actions of the other candidate speak for themselves, who gets elected, that will change the tone."
Violent rhetoric in American politics has become increasingly commonplace in recent years.
Republican Greg Gianforte, now Montana's governor, won a U.S. House seat in 2017 the day after body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs at a campaign event, breaking his glasses. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and was sentenced to community service and anger management, being made to pay a $385 fine.
Just this month, after the FBI executed a search warrant at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, threats of violence against agents have abounded.
A gunman died in a shootout last week after attempting to breach an FBI office in Cincinnati. Ricky Walter Shiffer, who urged violence in posts on Trump's Truth Social media platform, was previously at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters attempted to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's election win — many chanting "Hang Mike Pence."
Politicians have helped fuel the rhetoric. Carl Paladino, a Republican U.S. House candidate in western New York who has been endorsed by high-ranking GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik, said in a radio interview that Attorney General Merrick Garland "probably should be executed" because of the Mar-a-Lago search. He later claimed he was being "facetious."