Maine Republicans contemplate coming clean about LePage fundraising remarks

Update – This post was updated at 12:55 p.m. on 8/23/13 to include a reference and link to state Sen. Roger Katz’s op-ed which also ran in the Bangor Daily News.

The fallout of whatever it was Gov. Paul LePage said or didn’t say in reference to President Barack Obama’s affection or lack thereof for “white people” at a recent GOP fundraiser is likely to carry into at least next week, as top Republicans weigh whether or not to adhere to his gag order.

Rumors are flying that at least a trio of Republicans, including some sitting state lawmakers, are considering going on the record to confirm what anonymous sources have already alleged: that LePage accused the president of being racist in front of a crowd of Republicans. But they are waiting out the results of a special state Senate election before making their move, at the behest of fellow partisans who hope for a Republican victory in the likely low-turnout election Tuesday.

And though Republicans have chafed at LePage’s leadership and style in the past, he’s maintained a remarkably effective ability to prevent open opposition and it’s still a strong possibility the Republicans thinking of stepping out of the shadows could well decide to remain there.

Those in the governor’s inner circle hope to wait the press frenzy out by refusing further comment and denying the reports of the remarks on technical accuracy if not on substance. But a group of Republicans publicly coming out as witnesses to LePage’s remarks and subsequent bold attempted cover-up would mark a significant shift in the party balance as he heads into a three-way re-election race against Democrat Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

Already, Republican sources say the governor’s re-election campaign is facing fundraising roadblocks as LePage’s inability to keep from making inflammatory remarks continues seemingly unabated. Such a public and open stance against LePage would signal his real toxicity within the party and open him up to a serious primary challenge.

Some Republicans are already seeking to recruit a viable challenger to LePage, one Republican consultant said.

LePage’s current top GOP foil is state Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, who has been traveling and not part of the recent media firestorm. Katz, part of the Republican Senate leadership, wrote an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald earlier this summer chastising LePage for his style. He would be a natural to challenge LePage in a gubernatorial primary campaign. The biggest question mark to anyone getting into a primary challenge against the incumbent would be whether or not there’s enough legitimate interest on the part of top Republican fundraisers to abandon him. LePage, is currently trailing Michaud in public polling, and a potential GOP rival, such as Katz, could make an electability case.

Regardless, LePage’s brand has been damaged by the unfolding of events, not even necessarily for making whatever comments he did, but because he and his political team have tried to strong arm the supporters, lawmakers and fundraisers at the event into a cover-up. A public breaking with LePage by Republicans would signal they are finally fed up with having to clean-up after a man whose political fortunes are rapidly dimming.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a breaking news editor for CNN's digital politics team in Washington. Previously, she was a senior news editor with U.S. News and World Report, where she began her three-year tenure as a political writer. She spent much of 2012 on the road covering the presidential campaign in battleground states across the country. Metzler proudly tells all who will listen she hails from the great state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and her undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College.