As he seeks a third term as Maine governor, Paul LePage had reportedly left behind the days when he earned national headlines by threatening to blow up a newspaper office, challenging a Democrat to a duel, or telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”
But it turns out that, for the man once dubbed “America’s craziest governor,” old habits die hard.
At a Sunday campaign stop, LePage threatened to “deck” a Maine Democratic Party staffer who was filming him, according to video obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast.
As the staffer approached LePage in a small crowd, the 73-year-old Republican reacted with an immediate threat.
“Six feet away, or I’m going to deck you,” said LePage, pointing at the staffer, his other hand clutching a donut from Tim Horton’s. “If you come into my space, you’re going down.”
LePage then paused, at which point one of the three men standing next to LePage—all of whom were wearing his campaign stickers—laughed nervously.
“Enough is enough. Six feet away,” LePage said, before taking a bite of his donut.
LePage’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In response to the video, Drew Gattine, the chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said that LePage “was, is, and always will be a bully.”
Gattine has his own history with LePage: In 2016, LePage, then governor, left a expletive-filled voicemail message for Gattine, then a state legislator, calling him a “socialist cocksucker,” among other things.
When the voicemail became public, LePage told the Portland Press-Herald that he wished he could challenge Gattine to a duel and shoot him in the head, “because he is a snot-nosed little runt.” (Previously, LePage had threatened to blow up the offices of the Press-Herald.)
“When he was governor, he often threatened people with violence and with the power of his office—I saw it firsthand,” Gattine said in his statement to The Daily Beast. “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.”
Publicly, LePage has said he was Donald Trump before Trump himself was. Over two loud and controversial terms as governor of Maine, he became nationally known not just for his archconservative positions but his flamboyantly politically incorrect opinions.
In 2016, LePage famously warned that drug dealers with names like “D-Money” and “Shifty” were coming to Maine from other states to sell heroin. “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave,” LePage said, drawing widespread condemnation.
In 2018, his final year in office, LePage said he was going to retire to Florida and leave politics. But in 2021, LePage decided to launch a comeback bid for the governorship, ultimately running an uncontested campaign for the GOP nomination to face the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Janet Mills.
So far, Mills has led LePage in public polls, but handicappers like the Cook Political Report rate the race as competitive, with a slight advantage to Mills.
According to NBC News, LePage has reportedly “mellowed out” and has branded himself privately as “LePage 2.0.” In early interviews for his 2022 bid, he sounded more like a concerned centrist than the bomb-thrower he was known to be, telling a Maine interviewer that the country needs to “find a path to have civil discourse.”
LePage’s threatening of the Democratic Party staffer—at a campaign stop in the northern Maine town of Madawaska on Sunday—is far more in line with the behavior of LePage 1.0.
Given his extensive history in politics, LePage is likely to be quite familiar with what the staffer was there to do.
In politics, it is a common practice—by both parties—to send staffers out to record their campaign rivals at public events. Often, that material isn’t weaponized for public use, but simply serves as intel about what the competition is saying or doing.
Many candidates take a non-confrontational attitude toward these staffers, sometimes known as “trackers.” In some cases, they might see the staffer multiple times daily through the duration of campaign season and even develop a friendly rapport.
For other candidates, however, the presence of a tracker at a particular moment might invite a gaffe or cause them to snap—in which case, the footage becomes politically valuable. One of the most famous examples comes from 2006, when George Allen, a former Republican U.S. senator, stood in front of a crowd and used the racist slur “macaca” to refer to his Indian-American Democratic tracker. He went on to narrowly lose re-election.