EXCLUSIVE: Former Gov. Paul LePage of Maine on Wednesday formally kicks off his 2022 Republican challenge against his successor, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, in what may end up being one of the marquee gubernatorial showdowns in next year's elections.
The former two-term governor, who steered Maine from 2011-2019, will launch his campaign at a rally at the civic center in Augusta, the state’s capital city.
"I serve you, the everyday working men and women, who pay their taxes, follow the rules and endeavor to always do the right thing," LePage will say in his speech, according to excerpts exclusively shared with Fox News ahead of the former governor’s address.
And taking aim at Mills, LePage will charge that his successor "inherited a lean, efficient and accountable state government. They proceeded to send Maine backwards."
"Maine continues to struggle under one of the highest overall state and local tax burdens," he'll argue.
LePage, who was first elected governor in 2010 and reelected four years later, was prevented by term limits from seeking a third straight term in 2018. In Maine, a governor can serve an unlimited number of terms, but only two in a row.
Mills, who as Maine’s attorney general during LePage’s tenure steering the state was often at odds with the governor, has not yet declared she’s running for reelection but has already begun fundraising for a second term as governor.
The pugnacious LePage became known both inside Maine and across the country for stirring controversy thanks to his off-the-cuff remarks.
Among them - during his first campaign for governor, LePage said he would tell then-President Obama to "go to hell" if he were elected.
And during his second term, LePage said that out-of-state drug dealers with names such as "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" sell heroin in Maine and impregnate "young White girl[s]" before they leave.
But in announcing his 2022 bid in a July statement – which allowed him to begin fundraising – LePage avoided any bombastic language, saying that "Maine faces several challenges and we must work toward building a better future based on individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and an economy which empowers everyone including our rural communities."
And at a fundraiser this summer for a conservative group, LePage acknowledged that "I’ve been a bit controversial in the past."
"Hope to clean up my act this time," he added.
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s longtime political consultant, is spotlighting what seems to be a kinder and gentler LePage.
"LePage does have a history of working across the aisle," Littlefield told Fox News, noting LePage’s two elected terms as mayor of Waterville, Maine, a Democratic city. "He’s looking forward to working with Republicans, Independents and Democrats willing to work together to accomplish his goals and his mission."
Littlefield emphasized that LePage "wants to continue to push for reforms. That includes lowering taxes, improving the regulatory environment to continue to create jobs and grow the economy in all parts of the state, including the rural parts of the state. He wants to work with everybody regardless of their political background."
LePage’s own background is quite unique, by gubernatorial standards. He grew up speaking French in an impoverished family in Waterville. The victim of child abuse, he ran away from home, spending two years homeless, living on the streets.
"To overcome that, to speak English as a second language, is highly unusual. And then to go on to become a great business success and then to become a mayor and governor is quite a testament to the American dream," Littlefield highlighted.
LePage, who was known for touting that he was Donald Trump "before Donald Trump became popular," was a supporter of the former president’s 2016 election and 2020 reelection bid.
While Trump, eight months removed from the White House, remains very popular and influential among GOP base voters and Republican politicians as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in party politics, Littlefield seemed to downplay connections to the former president. He told Fox News LePage is "not running to be governor of New England, he’s not running to be governor of the United States, he’s running to be governor of Maine and our campaign is entirely focused on the state of Maine."
LePage has never lost an election, but in Mills he likely has the toughest opponent of his political career. And since his last victory – seven years ago – Maine has turned a slightly darker shade of blue. A state that Hillary Clinton carried by three points in her 2015 presidential election defeat to Trump was carried by now-President Biden by nine points over Trump last November.
LePage won his first gubernatorial election in 2010, and his reelection four years later, thanks in part to third-party candidates splitting the Democratic vote. But as of now, there's little indication that such a scenario will happen in next year's election.
The Democratic Governors Association (DGA), ahead of LePage's campaign kickoff, charged that if elected again, the former governor "would drag Maine backwards and Maine’s economy and working families down with him."
"Paul LePage was a disaster for the state of Maine. Under his failed tenure, public schools went underfunded, Maine families were denied affordable health care, and commonsense, bipartisan policies were kicked to the curb," DGA senior communications adviser Christina Amestoy told Fox News.