LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In just under 100 days, Mainers will elect a new governor. The three-way contest between incumbent Paul LePage, Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler is already a fierce fight , and will only get hotter in the weeks ahead.
LePage - who is controversial, to say the least - is the primary issue in the race. So to get away from issues and find out about the person, NEWS CENTER went with LePage to his old neighborhood in Lewiston. Many of the buildings in the "Little Canada" section have vanished since he grew up there in the 1950's. But the old neighborhood clearly plays a major role in LePage's view of the world.
He grew up poor in a family of 12 kids. All of them speaking French, he said, all going to church at St. Mary's and to parochial school next door. And, as most Mainers now know, the future governor had to contend with abuse from an often drunk and abusive father. It was a childhood LePage says was saved by caring neighbors, like Mrs. Gousse.
"She would give us a place to hide," he said. "She would take us in on a Friday or Saturday when my Dad was on a tear."
He says other neighbors helped him find jobs as a boy, got him through high school and into college. How was he able to get out of that neighborhood and succeed, while some of his siblings struggled throughout their lives? LePage says he doesn't know what made the difference. But he says working and getting an education changed his life.
Those achievements also helped form his strong opinions on welfare, one of the central issues of the current campaign.
"And the thing about welfare is they give you things. They give you - they don't teach you. And my brothers got stuck in receiving a check every month, whereas I never did. "
Asked about criticism that his welfare reforms seem to some people like a "war on the poor" in Maine, LePage denies it. "I want to teach people," he says. "You can give somebody a meal and they'll eat or you can teach them to earn a meal. I don't have a war on poverty. I have a war on the system."
He says critics are also wrong when they claim he won't negotiate or compromise, that he has a "my way or the highway" attitude. It isn't true, he says, and puts the blame for the lack of compromise and progress in the legislature on Democratic leaders.
LePage claims they are the problem, for refusing to negotiate with him on various issues.
"They walk in, sit down, they say no and walk out," says Lepage.
But when told those Democratic leaders say the same thing about him, LePage holds up his hands and shrugs his shoulders. "That's the impression I get of both of them," he says.
And, while there are many issues in the campaign such as taxes, jobs, education and welfare, LePage admits the real issue is him – the incumbent running for re-election.
"So there's no question it's got to be about me. It has to be about me."
Don Carrigan spent time with each gubernatorial candidate to get to know them, trying to find out how the three men think, and what drives them to want such a difficult job.
Eliot Cutler's preview can be found here.
Mike Michaud's preview can be found here.