PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Rep. Mike Michaud had endured more than a dozen elections without anyone questioning his sexuality. Now everyone knows the Maine congressman is gay — including his mother.
The 58-year-old Michaud said Monday that he told his mom that he was gay just hours before he released an op-ed in which he came out publicly. He said he wrote the piece to end "whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls" that were dogging his gubernatorial campaign.
"It was a difficult decision to tell my sister and my mother," Michaud said in his Portland campaign office hours after he released an op-ed. His mother, sister and five other siblings said through his campaign staff that they didn't want to be interviewed.
The announcement lifts the profile of a three-way race in which the six-term congressman and former paper mill worker is running close in the polls with Gov. Paul LePage, the Republican incumbent. Also in the race is wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.
But the ramifications were unclear. Maine approved gay marriage last year.
Michaud's acknowledgement that he's gay could mean big contributions from gay rights groups. It also could win over some liberal voters concerned about his "blue dog" image and votes on abortion. But it also could cost him the votes of some socially conservative supporters.
"It makes things more interesting. There's no doubt about that," said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
With Michaud's announcement, there are now seven members of the U.S. House who are openly gay, along with one member of the U.S. Senate. There are no openly gay governors.
Michaud's coming out elicited statements of support.
"We applaud Congressman Michaud and look forward to working with him in the future," said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, adding that "his example will promote understanding and show the importance of being open and honest about who you are."
By nature, Michaud said he doesn't like talking about himself. Quiet and unassuming, he worked for more than 29 years in the Great Northern Paper Mill in East Millinocket, where his father and grandfather worked. He keeps his lunch box in his office as a reminder.
He said the decision to announce that he was gay was not easy. He told his mother and sister on Sunday as his staff was preparing to release his op-ed to The Associated Press and two newspapers.
"I ran for office 17 times and it's never been an issue. However, someone or some group definitely tried to make it an issue in this campaign, and I decided to put it right out there on the table," he told the AP.
Cutler's campaign denied any involvement in dirty tricks and said Michaud's disclosure should have no bearing on the race. LePage's campaign declined to comment.
MaryEllen FitzGerald, a pollster from Critical Insights in Portland, said she doubted that Michaud's announcement would have a big impact on the race for governor. People are more concerned about the economy and health care, she added.
"He is a politician who has been in the public eye for a significant amount of time. He has a track record that people can judge him on, and I don't think his sexual orientation is generally going to be a factor," FitzGerald said. "Because he's a known entity, I don't think this is going to change opinions of him."
Michaud, for his part, said there's a sense of relief.
But he remains a private person. He said he hopes his opponents will respect his decision to go public, and that they'll join him in waging a positive campaign that focuses on issues.
"My personal life has never factored into how I do my job, whether I was working in the mill for over 29 years, whether it was during my time in the Legislature or as a member of Congress. My personal life never factored into it, and it won't factor into how I'd be governor," he said.
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