Rep. Larry Lockman (right), R-Bradley, with an endorsement from former governor Paul LePage, kicked off his 2020 run against incumbent Republican State Senator Kim Rosen on Tuesday morning in Brewer.

A Penobscot County legislator and arch-conservative agitator who has said Democrats are waging a “war on whites” kicked off a 2020 run against an incumbent Republican state senator on Tuesday with an endorsement from former Gov. Paul LePage.

The move from Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Bradley, is expected to set up a primary with Sen. Kim Rosen of Bucksport, a low-key lawmaker who was endorsed Tuesday by party leaders who share her worry that Lockman’s nomination could surrender a safe red seat to Democrats.

For two Republicans, Lockman and Rosen could hardly be more different. He most often submits dead-on-arrival legislation largely intended for messaging. When asked about her service, Rosen focuses on local issues in the district with an odd geography stretching from Castine through Brewer to Lincoln — and meeting constituents at their homes and over coffee.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Lockman emerged in the 1970s as a fringe conservative activist. He was elected narrowly in 2012 and has won the seat easily since then. Rosen is in her 13th year in the Legislature. She and her husband, Richard Rosen, owned a department store in Bucksport that closed in 2013.

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At a rollout event on Tuesday in Brewer alongside LePage and a group that included current and former legislators, Lockman hammered Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, said Democrats were more concerned with helping “new Mainers” than “old Mainers” and aped President Donald Trump by saying he would work to “make Maine great again.”

“As a state senator, I will be a voice for these forgotten Mainers who have been left behind by the political class and the lobbyists at the State House,” he said.

In 2014, a staffer for the liberal Maine People’s Alliance unearthed letters from Lockman to Maine newspapers from the 1980s and 1990s. One asked why rape should be illegal if abortion is not. Another blamed the AIDS epidemic on progressives who he said labeled “sodomy” as “a legitimate alternative lifestyle, rather than a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

He signaled “regret” for some of those statements in 2014, but he has ramped up his rhetoric after easily winning his last three races. In 2018, Lockman sent an email on behalf of a group he runs arguing against a bill to set up an “Office of New Mainers,” saying there was too much at stake to let identity politics and the Left’s War on Whites rule the day.”

On Tuesday, Lockman and LePage demurred on a question about why they found fault with Rosen, with Lockman saying there will be “plenty of time to highlight the differences” between them. Senate Republicans endorsed Rosen in a Tuesday statement, with Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow of Waldoboro saying she has “established herself as a leader.”

Rosen said she thinks opposition from Lockman and LePage is rooted in 2017 budget strife, where Senate Republicans warred with LePage ahead of a state government shutdown. She said she is confident in her record, will run a “positive campaign” and expressed confidence that Republicans would “vote for the person, not the LePage kind” of negative politics.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

The former governor gave Senate Republicans headaches by playing primary politics in 2016, when he backed conservative challengers to one incumbent state senator and two other candidates preferred by the Thibodeau-led campaign. Two of those LePage-backed candidates won their primaries, but then lost to Democrats who still hold the seats.

The districts held by Rosen and Lockman have similar and healthy Republican leans, but a Senate race featuring Lockman could motivate Democrats to train money on a district where Rosen won a third term with 58 percent of votes in 2018, when Democrats stormed to control of the Legislature and Blaine House.

Lockman said he expects the Republican nominee to win, but Rosen said Democrats are likely to think the prospect of Lockman’s nomination is “awesome” in the approach to an election year.

“This changes everything for the Republicans and I feel bad about that,” she said.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...