To the surprise of few in Maine’s political world, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew entered the 2018 governor’s race Tuesday morning as a Republican.

Though her official campaign was just announced, themes that we’ll likely be hearing for the next 17 months emerged Tuesday morning during a radio interview. As the best campaign themes do, they can be distilled to a few words: “tough decisions” and “government can’t fix everything.”

Mayhew has been at the tip of many of Gov. Paul LePage’s most aggressive agenda points. When internal polls in 2014 indicated strong grassroots support for tougher welfare policies, Mayhew led the rulemaking and policy shifts that LePage touted as “reform” during his successful re-election bid.

During Tuesday morning’s interview, she characterized her efforts as brave, necessary, prudent and critical to transforming a “culture of dependence” into a system that guides vulnerable people to self-sufficiency. However, opponents point to higher rates and degrees of poverty, making her the chief villain in what they label LePage’s punitive and inhumane social services agenda. Mayhew casts her role in guiding that effort as a virtue.

“If the measure of success was whether or not you were liked at the end of the day, no one would ever make tough decisions,” said Mayhew. “What I’ve learned over the last six and a half years is that if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. We all know government cannot be and is not the answers to the challenges in our state.”

That brings us to her second theme, which of course is well-worn among Republicans, particularly in the LePage wing of the party: “smaller government.”

“Government will never be a parent. It will never be a church. It will never be a Rotary club,” said Mayhew. “We certainly cannot try to replace all of those by somehow throwing money at government, taxing people more or adding layer upon layer of regulations.”

The Republican gubernatorial field will likely be crowded for next year’s primary election, and Mayhew’s early entrance in the race allows her to corner the market on themes that played well for LePage, who roared to re-election in 2014 largely on the strength of his “welfare reform” message, which as President Donald Trump verified is about as potent a political issue as there is.

Mayhew and the other candidates will sound like broken records by the general election for those of us who listen to just about every word they say. But for voters who pop into campaigns just long enough to decide whose name to mark on a ballot, the messages that will make a difference are the ones that fit on a bumper sticker. Mayhew got a head start on bumper sticker material Tuesday morning.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.