PORTLAND, Maine — A six-term congressman and former paper mill worker who is hoping to unseat Governor Paul LePage next year has announced that he is gay, the response to what the candidate called a ‘‘whisper campaign’’ by political opponents hoping to weaken his gubernatorial bid.
US Representative Mike Michaud, 58, wrote in an op-ed article provided to the Associated Press, the Portland Press Herald, and the Bangor Daily News that ‘‘whisper campaigns, insinuations, and push polls’’ attempted to get voters to question whether he is gay.
‘‘Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: ‘Yes I am. But why should it matter?’ ’’ he wrote.
The Democrat’s announcement adds intrigue to a tight three-way race with LePage, the Republican incumbent, and independent Eliot Cutler.
A poll released in October suggested Michaud was about even with LePage. Cutler, who finished second to LePage in the 2010 election, is promoting himself as a better alternative in a state where unenrolled voters comprise the largest bloc.
Michaud did not identify who he thinks is behind the alleged whispering campaign. His campaign had not previously raised the issue.
Cutler, whose campaign denied any involvement in a whisper campaign, said Michaud’s disclosure should have no bearing on the race. LePage’s campaign declined to comment.
Maine voters approved a gay marriage law a year ago; Michaud supported the measure.
His announcement could help him among liberals who may be giving Cutler a look, but, more importantly, it defuses the topic of his sexuality, said Sandy Maisel, a political science professor at Colby College. ‘‘He’s demonstrated his intent to be open and to take the high road,’’ he said.
Across the country, gay and lesbian candidates are making strides. There are currently 538 nonstraight men and women holding political office, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which aims to increase the number of openly gay leaders at all levels of government. Currently, there are no gay governors.
Michaud downplayed the announcement. ‘‘That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer,” he wrote. “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.’’
In Congress, he has focused on veterans’ issues and is counted a moderate Democrat.
He would not be the first gay governor. New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey said in 2004 that he was gay, making him the first openly gay governor. Nor is Michaud the first gay candidate. A gay Democrat, Heather Mizeur, is running for governor of Maryland.