AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) Once a homeless youth, Paul LePage said he had been told he would never achieve anything in life. Now, he has surprised everybody, even himself, with a stunning win in Maine's Republican gubernatorial primary.
The tea party favorite's victory with more than one-third of the vote in Tuesday's crowded GOP primary sets the stage for a November race against liberal state Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, who emerged as the Democratic nominee, and independents who have yet to actively engage in the campaign for the governor's office.
LePage, 61, the Waterville mayor, called his victory "absolutely overwhelming."
"Now having been homeless at the age of 11, I am on the doorstep to the Blaine House in Augusta," LePage said. "This is the story of the American Dream."
Mitchell, 69, an attorney, is the first woman in America to serve as both state Senate president and state House speaker. The former teacher served 12 terms in the Legislature and for seven years on the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
She told supporters her win "speaks to the politics of hope and not fear, to the politics of bringing people together, not to the politics of division."
To LePage, his victory "says that Maine people are not only angry but they want a fiscal conservative to go to Augusta to reduce spending, reduce taxes and get some common-sense regulations back in Augusta and get out of the way and let us earn a living," he said.
No clear front-runner had emerged leading up to the primaries, and polls days before the election indicated more than half of voters still had not made up their minds.
For the seven Republican candidates, fiscal conservatism, harnessing government growth and making Maine more business friendly were prominent campaign themes. The tea party movement, which has become a symbol of voters' anger and frustration, endorsed no candidate but LePage courted its followers.
Some of the GOP candidates distanced themselves from tea party-inspired planks in the state Republican party's platform, which called for the elimination of the Department of Education, a reference to global warming as a "myth" and a declaration that health care "is not a right. It is a service."
But the conservative message apparently struck a chord with voters.
LePage's GOP rivals included former ski executive Les Otten; businessman Bruce Poliquin; former Husson University President Bill Beardsley; business development executive Matt Jacobson; Peter Mills, a state senator; and Steve Abbott, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
LePage earned more than double the vote of his nearest challenger, Otten, who had far outspent him during the campaign. Through late May, Otten had spent $2.3 million and LePage $129,300, according to state reports.
In his concession speech, Otten urged all Republicans to rally behind LePage.
Mills attributed LePage's victory to a few different factors: either Republicans who hadn't voted in previous primaries turned out to vote, independents moved over to the party, or the large bloc of undecided voters went overwhelmingly for LePage. Three independents have qualified for the November ballot as well as LePage and Mills.
Among the Democrats, ideas for how government can play a role in creating jobs dominated the campaigns.
Mitchell defeated two other public officials former Attorney General Steve Rowe and former Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan and Rosa Scarcelli, a business owner, who had played up her role as a political outsider.
The November election will feature more than the two major-party candidates. Nonparty independents Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, Kevin Scott of Andover and Shawn Moody of Gorham have all qualified to appear on the ballot, which for the first gubernatorial election in 16 years will not include a candidate from the Green Independent Party.
The winner in November will succeed two-term Gov. John Baldacci, who in 2003 became the first Democrat in 16 years to hold the office. Republican John McKernan served from 1987-1995, and independent Angus King served the next eight years.