Underlining the Trump connections that run through his US Senate bid, Republican candidate Geoff Diehl enlisted Maine Governor Paul R. LePage to the campaign trail Monday, tapping his unapologetic conservatism to drum up cash and media attention.
The two-term governor’s headlining appearance at a Diehl fund-raiser drew about 100 supporters and a dozen protesters, who LePage dismissed as of little consequence.
“The people that find me provocative or find me disgusting never voted for me and never will vote for Geoff Diehl. It’s that simple,” LePage told reporters, before shifting into an animated condemnation of what he called an “era of political hatred.”
“If you have an ‘R’ next to your name and you open your mouth, you’re hated,” he said. “If you’re a Democrat, like [Massachusetts Senator] Elizabeth Warren, you can say anything you please and get away with it. That’s where we are. It’s time to break the mold.”
Like Diehl, LePage has been one of Trump’s most ardent backers in New England, though LePage’s support came long after he had built a controversial reputation of his own.
Two years ago, LePage targeted the Massachusetts cities of Lawrence and Lowell as helping fuel his own state’s opioid crisis. He once claimed that 90 percent of the drug dealers being arrested in Maine, and documented in a binder he kept, were black or Hispanic. The year before, he said the NAACP could “kiss my butt.”
Now in the final months of his tenure as governor, LePage is touting candidates, like Diehl, he says can fix a “broken” Senate and help Trump push his economic agenda.
Diehl, a state representative from Whitman, is a running in a three-way Republican primary against Beth Lindstrom, a longtime GOP activist, and John Kingston, a Winchester businessman. The winner of the Sept. 4 primary will face Warren in November.
LePage, as expected, took his shots at the Cambridge Democrat.
“She’s all about herself,” he said. “Her biggest weakness is she’s looking at the presidency instead looking to do her job.”
But he used most of his address to tell the 100 or so supporters — some of whom attended a “VIP” reception that carried a suggested $1,500 donation — about his approach the last eight years in office: Be who you are. Don’t change.
“If you change, you lose,” LePage said.
That approach has drawn controversy. Before LePage arrived, about a dozen protesters gathered across the street, carrying signs that read “Bigots not welcome here” or “Fight against Racism.”
Jim Mneice, 70, of Waltham said he joined the group across the street because LePage is a Trump supporter and “Trump has been terrible.”
LePage, pressed on the criticisms protesters held for passing motorists to see, did what he’s done often over his political career: He fired back.
“I am anything but a racist,” he said. “They are dead wrong.”Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout