WESTBROOK, Maine — Former Gov. Paul LePage declined to weigh in on former president Donald Trump’s potential return bid for the White House at a campaign event on Wednesday, saying he was focused only on his November race with Gov. Janet Mills.
“I am running for governor of the state of Maine in 2022 and am less worried about ,” LePage said at a Westbrook truck equipment company, where he was campaigning with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. “Once I’m governor, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.”
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His unwillingness to take a side came amid significant strife within the major parties about their chief standard-bearers. Recent polling has shown large swaths of Democrats and Republicans seeking alternatives to President Joe Biden and Trump, respectively.
Maine politicians have avoided questions on that so far, but LePage attended a recent networking event in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and first reported by Politico this week. DeSantis may be Trump’s biggest intraparty rival for the 2024 nomination.
LePage has praised Trump in the past, once calling himself “Trump before there was Trump.” He was also an early supporter of Trump’s presidential bid, becoming the second governor to endorse Trump in 2016 during the Republican primaries.
The former governor disputed that the Florida event was related to DeSantis’s presidential aspirations. LePage noted that he was “friends with a lot of governors” and that he would support Sununu if he decided to run. That led both to laugh.
“I went to raise money,” LePage said. “Because a lot of Mainers that have money live in Florida.”
Around half of Republican voters recently polled by The New York Times said they were ready to leave Trump behind. Biden has bigger trouble within his own party, with another Times poll finding nearly two-thirds of Democrats would prefer an alternative in 2024.
The three Democratic-aligned members of Maine’s congressional delegation declined to say whether Biden should run again. Mills’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District, who faces a tough challenger in former Rep. Bruce Poliquin in a November race that also features independent Tiffany Bond, said he was not focused on 2024. But he dinged his party after voting against their major spending bill early last year.
“If the president and leaders in my party had been more conscious of inflationary risks, and had listened to the concerns about inflation I raised with their party-line spending bills, there might be less hand-wringing right now about who should be running for office in 2024,” he said.
Sununu, a moderate Republican heavily favored to win his 2022 reelection race, has criticized Trump, calling him “crazy” at a comedy-themed dinner in April. He was more measured on Wednesday, when he was in Maine for a three-day National Governors Association meeting in Portland.
In response to questions about the 2024 election to LePage, Sununu said Republicans needed to prioritize 2022.
“No one knows what’s going to happen,” Sununu said. “As the guy who’s in charge of the first-in-the-nation primary, we take it real seriously, but also understand as Republicans, we got to take it step by step.”
BDN writers Michael Shepherd and Jessica Piper contributed to this report.