PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A six-term congressman and former paper mill worker hoping to unseat Maine Gov. Paul LePage next year announced that he's gay — a response to what he called a "whisper campaign" by political opponents hoping to weaken his gubernatorial bid.
U.S. 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 intrigue to a tight three-way race with LePage, the Republican incumbent, and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.
A poll released in October suggested that Michaud is about even with LePage. Cutler, who finished second to LePage in the 2010 election, is touting himself as a better alternative in a state where unenrolled voters comprise the largest voting bloc.
Michaud didn't identify who he thinks is behind the alleged whisper campaign against him. His campaign has not previously raised the issue.
It's unknown what impact, if any, Michaud's disclosure might have in the race. Maine voters approved a gay marriage law a year ago; Michaud supported the measure.
Michaud's announcement could help him among liberals who may be giving Cutler a look, but more importantly, it diffuses the topic of his sexuality, said Sandy Maisel, a political science professor at Colby College. "He's demonstrated his intent to be open and to take the high road," he said.
Across the country, gay and lesbian candidates are making strides.
There are currently 538 non-straight men and women holding political office in the U.S., and those 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. Currently, there are no gay governors.
For his part, Michaud downplayed the significance of his announcement.
"That may seem like a big announcement to some people. 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," Michaud wrote.
Born in Millinocket, he worked in the Great Northern Paper Mill in East Millinocket when he launched his career in the 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.
Michaud, who never has married, said he never liked to talk about himself but wants people "to know that I am not ashamed of who I am." A spokesman declined to say if he's in a relationship.
"And if seeing someone from my background, in my position openly acknowledge the fact that he's gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better," Michaud wrote.
If elected, he 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.
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