A six-term congressman and former paper-mill worker hoping to unseat Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, next year announced that he is gay — a response to what he called a "whisper campaign" by political opponents hoping to weaken his gubernatorial bid.
Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, 58, wrote in an op-ed provided to The Associated Press, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News that "whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls" attempted to get voters to question whether he's gay.
"Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: 'Yes I am. But why should it matter?"' he wrote in the op-ed published Monday by the two newspapers.
The Democrat's announcement adds a complicating factor to a tight three-way race with LePage and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.
Recent polls suggested that Michaud has a slight edge over LePage. Cutler, who finished second to LePage in the 2010 election, has trailed by about 10 points in recent polls.
Michaud didn't identify who he thinks is behind the alleged whisper campaign against him. His campaign did not previously raise the issue. Cutler, whose campaign denied any involvement in a whisper campaign, said Michaud's disclosure should have no bearing on the race. LePage's campaign declined to comment.
It's unknown what impact, if any, Michaud's disclosure may have in the race. Maine voters approved a gay-marriage law last year, but only by a few percentage points. Maine is still divided on the issue, though a clear majority seems to support same-sex marriage, according to recent polling. Former President George H.W. Bush officiated a same-sex wedding in the state last month.
LePage has the support of the state's active and vocal Tea Party and has opposed same-sex marriage.
If Michaud wins, he'll join the burgeoning ranks of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender elected officials.
There are 538 LGBT men and women holding political office in the U.S., and they include a U.S. senator and a half-dozen members of the U.S. House, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which aims to increase the number of openly gay leaders at all levels of government.
There are no gay governors. But Michaud downplayed the significance of his announcement.
"That may seem like a big announcement to some people," he wrote. "For me, it's just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine."
Born in Millinocket, Michaud worked in the Great Northern Paper Mill in East Millinocket when he launched his career in the state legislature. In Washington, he has focused on veterans' issues and is considered a moderate Democrat, part of the Blue Dog caucus.
The son and grandson of mill workers, Michaud said he's never forgotten where he came from. "Most of all, I was brought up believing you should judge a person based on the content of his or her character, not by their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. That's a value I know most Mainers share," he said.
If elected, Michaud wouldn't be the first gay governor. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey announced in 2004 that he was gay, making him the first openly gay governor. Nor is Michaud the first gay candidate. In Maryland, an openly gay candidate, Democrat Heather Mizeur, is running for governor.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press