It was 2010 all over again for Republicans across the country — another wave election.

In Maine, our intense, confrontational governor, Paul LePage, overcame seemingly impossible odds to gain re-election, an incredible feat for a politician who faced much criticism and negative press. And, yet he “won by a comfortable margin,” as I predicted in my pre-election column on the Thursday before the election (in which I predicted 11 out of 11 winners). Why and how did LePage do it again?

Let’s examine how an incumbent governor, called an embarrassment by many, who consistently trailed Mike Michaud, his Democratic opponent, in the polls, survived. The Democratic Party, in particular, should take notes.

At the top of the list of the inventory that led to LePage’s re-election is a great campaign.

Kudos to those responsible for creating the image of a more compassionate, but still tough, “man of the people,” the guy with the bad mouth, but fun to have a beer with. LePage’s advisers kept him in line, and when he made a gaffe (“Social Security is a form of welfare”), damage control went successfully into high gear. LePage’s image of a non-politician who tells it like it is regardless of political consequences was preserved throughout the campaign. His sense of humor became a softening factor. He was often funny during the campaign and with his comments on Election Day.

The governor was strong in debates; Michaud was not. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler never got any traction. It remained a two-way race, unlike 2010 when Cutler benefited from the collapse of Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell.

LePage and Bruce Poliquin, the new Republican 2nd District congressman, both shared in the nationwide disgust over America’s ever-burgeoning debt. One of my neighbors described it thus: “I am sick and tired of the government spending us all into debt by printing money that we don’t give them. In my family, while growing up, I learned that you don’t spend money that you don’t have; you must live within your means. I watched too many friends go under by violating that simple rule, and that is where this country is headed now.”

LePage scored big points for paying off Maine’s huge debt owed to the state’s hospitals when he was first elected. Voters have become much more conservative on the related issues of debt and taxes since the good times ended.

The governor and Republicans struck a chord when he made welfare reform a major part of his campaign. The majority of Maine voters are convinced that welfare fraud and abuse exist to the point of attracting people from out of state in order to cash in on our generosity. The issue was a winner, whether or not the claim was blown out of proportion.

And then there was LePage’s luck, something that successful politicians admit is needed in every campaign. LePage’s luck came in the form of Ebola and immigration. The governor found these issues tailor-made to his style. Fear is the perfect environment for bold and effective action designed to protect the people. Voters in Maine agreed with the governor on the need for protective action on the Ebola threat and the need to curb illegal immigration. This was no time to import President Barack Obama’s policies on these issues into Maine. LePage took a stand, political consequences be damned.

In every election, it helps if your opponent and his campaign are ineffective in defending their positions on issues of vital importance to the voters. Unfortunately for Michaud and his party, this was not an election year in which the voters were in a liberal mood.

Michaud’s debate performances were not strong and just being the anti-LePage candidate not enough.

Bringing Obama into Portland just before the election did nothing but solidify the 70 percent Democratic base in a city whose residents think differently from people elsewhere in the state. In fact, Obama’s appearance a critical moment in the campaign may have turned off some Michaud-leaning independents.

Many voters were not happy with Cutler’s weak exit from the race, coupled with Sen. Angus King’s endorsement flip-flop to Michaud. The pundits failed to take into account that a Cutler withdrawal or signal to vote for someone else would not necessarily result in wholesale defection of Cutler supporters to Michaud. Many independents, in fact, were angry with both Cutler and King and decided to vote for LePage

The belief that the governor could not exceed his core 38 percent from 2010 was thus shattered, and LePage was re-elected in a three-way race with 48 percent of the vote.

LePage’s campaign had one other factor that the others didn’t: Ann LePage. Those who recognized the first lady’s value to the campaign for her husband hit the mother lode.

An attractive, articulate, loyal wife, defending her husband in the tough political arena, sky-diving with veterans and holding teas for them at the Blaine House was pure theater. Every time Ann LePage appeared in a TV commercial for her husband, the governor’s status improved. Every successful politician has no stronger asset than a spouse like Ann LePage.

We may not love him as much as Ann does, but LePage is our governor for another four years and, like everything else in his life, he earned it the hard way.

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.


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