In two separate interviews with national news media, Gov. Paul LePage has offered new explanations for a comment he made about President Obama and race at a Republican fundraiser this month.
The governor also acknowledged in both reports, published Friday, that his penchant for offhand remarks is jeopardizing his re-election bid. He said in an interview with the Washington Post that if voters are “concerned with words over actions, I may not run.”
The governor, whose communications staff repeatedly denies requests by Maine media for one-on-one interviews, also spoke with the Bloomberg news service, telling its reporter that he now keeps a roll of duct tape on his desk.
“We all have faults,” LePage told Bloomberg. “Mine is that I can’t keep my mouth shut. I promised my staff: Now until Election Day, when I want to say something that is off-color, I’m going to tape my mouth shut.”
In both interviews, LePage addressed a statement he reportedly made at a Republican fundraiser in Belgrade on Aug. 12. Two Republican lawmakers, who asked that their names be withheld, told the Portland Press Herald that LePage said during the private gathering that Obama “hates white people.”
The Press Herald first reported the statement, which another Republican source confirmed to the Bangor Daily News. Other people who attended the event told the Press Herald that they didn’t hear LePage say it, or denied that he said it.
The report drew national attention. LePage’s political handlers tried to control the damage last week. In a radio interview with WGAN, Brent Littlefield, the governor’s political adviser, attacked news outlets for reporting the remark but never denied that the governor made it.
On Aug. 23, LePage issued a statement to Republican lawmakers apologizing for any “difficulty” his remark may have caused them. LePage neither denied making the remark nor tried to clarify it.
However, the written statement may have helped keep more of the approximately 60 people who attended the fundraiser from coming forward. Subsequent efforts by the Press Herald to convince attendees to go public have failed, despite reports last week that some were considering doing so.
In his interview with the Washington Post, LePage acknowledged that he made the remark about Obama and race but tried to parse the account given by Republican sources.
“I did not say it, not in the context in which it was reported,” LePage told the Post. “I never said hate.”
LePage told the Post that Obama, who is biracial, had an opportunity to bring people together. “But I said, ‘I guess he doesn’t like me,’” and Republican sources and the media turned that into, “Oh, he hates white people.”
LePage offered less detail in the Bloomberg interview, telling the reporter that his comment was “alleged,” but he didn’t deny making it.
“It was not the way it was reported,” he said.
On Tuesday, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling released a poll showing that many Mainers believe LePage made the “hates white people” remark. Forty-three percent said they believe he said it, 30 percent said they believe he didn’t, and 23 percent said they don’t know.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said they believe that LePage causes Maine “national embarrassment,” including 88 percent of Democratic respondents, 60 percent of independents and 30 percent of Republicans.
In his interviews with Bloomberg and the Washington Post, LePage attributed his reputation for provocative remarks to his unique ascent to political office from poverty and an abusive father, and the fact that he grew up speaking French.
“You live in cellars, hallways, brothels, wherever it’s warm in the winter, under the stars in the summer,” LePage told the Post, referring to his youth in Lewiston. “I’ve had to eat cat food to survive.”
He also said, “When you come from the streets — OK? — you develop sort of a mechanism inside of you, which is to protect what’s yours.”
The governor said his policy achievements have been overshadowed by his controversial statements. In that context, he said he may not run for re-election, apparently saying less about his intention to run and more about his frustration with the reaction to his statements.
“Words, to me, are like thunder,” LePage told the Post. “They make a lot of noise, but they don’t accomplish anything. … And if that takes me down, it takes me down.”
Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Friday that the Bloomberg interview had been in the works for a while, not prompted by the recent controversy.
She said the Washington Post reporter called the administration Monday. Bennett said she didn’t promise an interview with LePage but the reporter came to Maine anyway.
Asked why the governor rarely grants one-on-one access to Maine-based reporters, Bennett said, “Why should he?”
Asked if she was concerned that Mainers wouldn’t hear the governor’s explanation for his remark, Bennett said she wasn’t because Maine newspapers were giving the stories prominent play on their websites and in print.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: