For Fredette and Mayhew, GOP primary may have ended before it started

It’s unconventional for a sitting governor to select his preferred successor from outside of his own party. But there are indications that’s just what Gov. Paul LePage did with Shawn Moody last week. Moody was not a Republican until he registered as one several weeks ago, and now LePage’s campaign team is working to deliver the party’s nomination to him.

This news must have gone over like a lead balloon for two stalwart LePage loyalists who no doubt expected the governor’s support — House Minority Leader Ken Fredette and former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Shawn Moody announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday at his auto body shop in Gorham. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Fredette has done yeoman’s work as the de facto legislative arm of the LePage administration. Despite the twists and turns of LePage’s policy whims over the years, Fredette provided cover and votes for the governor, pitting his own House caucus against Republicans in the Senate to bolster LePage’s position. Fredette helped LePage push the government into shutdown earlier this year, embarrassing themselves when they finally accepted a deal to reopen government that they’d already been offered weeks before the debacle. And it was Fredette that LePage was talking to when he infamously said, “Don’t you Ken? You’ve been in uniform. You shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy. And the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in are people of color or people of hispanic origin.”

Through thick and thin, Fredette had LePage’s back, and was willing to go over the cliff with him.

But, as many have already learned about LePage, that loyalty is a one-way street. Despite all the political heat Fredette has taken for the governor, LePage’s team is backing a non-Republican for the Republican nomination.

Mayhew’s experience has been similar. Mayhew served as the hated frontperson for the most egregious LePage policy decisions — slashing and burning Maine’s social safety net, hiring political cronies, and mismanaging a department that LePage would rather see bankrupt than functional. To those who know her name, Mayhew is a reviled figure, second only to LePage himself in symbolizing the cruelty of a political dogma based on knee-jerk class hatred.  

Mayhew switched parties and became a Republican because she saw LePage as a ladder to climb to fulfil her political ambitions. She was willing to be hated for doing his bidding, because LePage would reciprocate that loyalty when she decided to run for governor.

Or so she must have thought.

Now Mayhew and Fredette may both need to find a path forward that doesn’t include LePage.

Mayhew’s argument for the nomination has basically evaporated without the governor’s support. She’s been a Democrat most of her life, she’s not particularly charismatic, and her logic that Republicans should support her because she did such a good job sabotaging the welfare system rings hollow when her boss doesn’t even buy into it. The LePage blessing was Mayhew’s only shot, and it appears to be gone.

Fredette has a better argument for his candidacy than Mayhew, but it’s still thin. Fredette was elected to leadership by his peers in the House, and ostensibly has some members of his caucus behind him. But that won’t translate into a real bloc of votes outside of the State House. He can’t make the argument that he’s the most conservative, or the most successful, or the smartest businessperson in the field. His strongest argument was that he would continue LePage’s tenure as his virtual third term — he even turned this into his campaign mantra — “Stay the Course.”

But without LePage’s support, that’s a very hard sell.

While Mayhew will likely fade into the background of the GOP nomination battle, Fredette isn’t drifting into campaign oblivion just yet. In fact, he’s come out swinging.

Last week he published an OpEd in this paper that can only be interpreted as an attack on Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason’s decision to use taxpayer money to fund his campaign for governor. Though the piece doesn’t mention him by name, Mason is the only GOP candidate for governor using the so-called “Clean Elections” system, and Fredette makes it clear he considers this a breach of Republican values.

It remains to be seen if the GOP-on-GOP aggression will be as well received without LePage’s imprimatur. Going on the attack this early in a primary contest is risky, but it may be the only path forward for Fredette now that the governor has decided to support someone else.

Maine Republicans have a long way to go until we pick our nominee in June, and LePage has once again thrown a wrench in the works. For those who’ve predicated their candidacies on nothing more substantial than LePage’s support, the race may now have ended before it really started.


Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.