Mike Michaud goes to work defining Mike Michaud in his first television ad of campaign

In his first television advertisement of the election season, Democrat Mike Michaud addressed political attacks that are building against him in the gubernatorial race by emphasizing his mill worker roots and taking a tacit swipe at Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s leadership style.

The 30-second spot, which will hit the airwaves on Tuesday, starts with an emphasis of Michaud’s upbringing in Medway and the 29 years he spent working at the Great Northern paper mill in East Millinocket. It then transitions to one of his staple campaign messages, which is his willingness to negotiate with others to achieve like-minded goals:

“I understand what people are going through, the hard times that people are facing. Whether or not they have a job today or tomorrow, we need a governor who’s willing to bring both sides together to have a plan for the state of Maine. That’s what missing today. Unless you sit down and work together, you’re not going to get it done.”

Michaud’s opponents rarely say anything about the congressman, in public anyway, that doesn’t try to paint him as a career politician whose time inside the political bubble has put him out of touch with Mainers. On the other hand, Michaud and others brand LePage as an obstructionist who for the most part refuses to participate in the legislative process until the latter stages, if at all.

There’s a kernel of truth in each argument.

Michaud was first elected to the Maine Legislature in 1980 and went to Congress in 2002 when former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci gave up his congressional seat to run for governor. Michaud’s two chief opponents in this year’s governor’s race, LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, emphasize the value of their experience outside politics, though LePage was a Waterville city councilor and mayor and Cutler has worked in government jobs in the past.

Michaud, who during his time in the Legislature held a job as a forklift operator at his hometown paper mill and doesn’t have a college degree, has his own regular-guy cred and a history of winning elections in lopsided fashion. However, given the biographies of his opponents, he will have to convince some voters that his more than three decades in elected office are an asset as opposed to a liability. That’s exactly what the television ad seeks to do.

As for leadership style, it’s ground-zero for Michaud and others’ attacks on LePage, who in his first term has often bucked against both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature (he once called the State House a “day care,” for example). LePage is also under attack for his frequent unwillingness to negotiation bills before they come to votes in the Legislature. That was evident in the record-setting 182 vetoes he issued during his first term, and his administration’s refusal earlier this year to write a supplemental budget bill or allow department heads to testify for legislative committees.

On the other hand, LePage is touting several initiatives for which he did show leadership, such as paying off old hospital debt and defeating Democrat-led attempts to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Cutler is also focused on leadership style and has been vigorously pushing a tax reform plan, versions of which have failed several times in Maine in recent years, with the difference being that Cutler says he’ll be the first governor to actively lobby for the plan.

Michaud’s television spot, which falls on the positive side of the spectrum as far as political advertising goes, is the first of what is sure to be numerous that will blanket the airwaves between now and election day. With the race between Michaud and LePage neck-and-neck and Cutler representing the dark horse who’s counting on a late rally, it won’t be much of a surprise when the campaigns — either on their own or at the hands of outside groups — trade biographical messages for attack ads.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

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