WASHINGTON — Gov. Paul LePage said Saturday that the current crop of Republican presidential candidates isn’t cutting it and that his party needs a fresh face to challenge President Barack Obama in the fall.

LePage told reporters at the National Governors Association meeting here that he is hoping for a floor fight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.

The outspoken Mainer also criticized the state’s GOP for how it botched the much-maligned presidential caucuses earlier this month.

Even as Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum compete for front-runner status with a win in Tuesday’s Michigan primary, LePage said the entire field of GOP candidates is damaged goods because they have spent too much time bashing each other.

“I would love to see a good old-fashioned convention and a dark horse come out and do it in the fall.”

LePage said he didn’t have a particular alternative candidate in mind.

But most Republicans and GOP-leaning independents disagree with LePage, according to a USA Today-Gallup Poll last week that found 66 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to see one of the current four candidates win enough delegates to secure the nomination ahead of the convention.

LePage said the GOP candidates have broken Ronald Reagan’s rule about not speaking ill of a fellow Republican and “have injured themselves and injured the party” with their attacks on each other.

“The candidates in this primary have beat themselves up so badly it would be nice to have a fresh face that we all could say, ‘Okay. The country deserves better than having people stand up and keep criticizing each other.’”

A few hours after he made his comments to reporters, his press secretary emailed to say she wanted it clarified that the governor would support whoever won the nomination and that the country is better off electing anybody but Obama.

There’s a long way to go in the presidential primary season, and Romney, Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all are vowing to battle for the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination into May or even June.

That same Gallup poll also found that Santorum is leading Romney nationally among GOP voters.

The 11-state Super Tuesday extravaganza is scheduled for March 6. Contests in major states like New York, North Carolina, Texas and California are among the more than three dozen primaries or caucuses still on the schedule after Tuesday’s contests in Michigan and Arizona.

The last time there was an old-school brokered convention for Republicans was in 1940 when Wendell Willkie won the nomination during a convention featuring multiple ballots and intervention by party bosses.

“I just believe we ought to go to a convention and pick a fresh face,” LePage said.

Meanwhile, LePage also criticized his own state Republican Party’s handling of the presidential straw poll. He favors primary elections because more voters get involved.

“I thought it was very, very unfortunate and I think that it was poorly handled,” LePage said about the state GOP-run caucuses.

Romney was declared the winner of the weeklong, nonbinding Maine caucuses Feb. 11 at an event held by the Maine GOP. But there was a furor inside and outside the state over the exclusion of postponed caucuses in Washington County and the need for a recount because of a variety of counting mistakes and omissions.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280
jriskind@mainetoday.com
Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC