AUGUSTA, MAINE - Maine's outgoing firebrand Republican governor has railed on his perceived opponents with fury and gusto over an eight-year term marked by profanity-laced controversy and a failed impeachment attempt. The four candidates running to succeed the governor who calls himself "Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular" are promising a more collaborative approach.
Candidates agree that term-limited Gov. Paul LePage steadied finances in this aging, rural and economically stagnant state. There's also unanimity that the governor's office needs a change of tone after the combative leadership style of LePage, who challenged a Democrat to a duel, told an NAACP chapter to "kiss my butt," and talked about black drug dealers who impregnate "young, white" girls.
Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, a longtime LePage opponent, hopes to be Maine's first female governor. Republican Shawn Moody wants to continue LePage's policies but with a more open approach. Two independents, Alan Caron and Terry Hayes, are also running.
So far, the race is heavy on advertising, light on fireworks.
"It's supposed to be a highly energetic year," said Caron, a communications and economic development consultant and former political consultant. "I just don't see it right now. Maybe people will awaken soon."
National Democratic groups hoping that voters upset by President Donald Trump will flip Maine in November are pouring millions of dollars into a race that's largely played out in ads since the June primary, for which fewer than four in 10 Mainers showed up. Just one poll showing a dead-heat between Mills and Moody has been released, though candidates have a slew of public debates scheduled in the weeks ahead.
New Gloucester resident Heather Magno, 40, said she's still figuring out whom to vote for, though she had leaned toward Moody. Magno, an operations professional, said though LePage has lacked "tact" at times, she's appreciated his anti-welfare fraud efforts.
"I don't want to see the system abused," Magno said.
Her co-worker Meghan McClay, 33 said she's voting for Mills because she just wants to see a Democrat in office. She says Mainers outside of Portland are struggling, and she's tired of seeing LePage's "blunt or aggressive" antics representing Maine on national news.
"I find it kind of embarrassing, I think a lot of people feel that way," said McClay, of Standish. She later added: "I'm sick of older sweaty white men running everything."
Mainers appear lukewarm on LePage and mixed on Trump, who won a historic split electoral vote from Maine's more rural 2nd congressional district. An August poll found 37 percent favorability for LePage and 41 percent for Trump.
Rising partisanship and LePage-fueled discord in the state Capitol has delayed action on key issues like the opioid crisis as Maine's economic growth lags behind the nation's and its job market tightens.
Candidates promise they'll ease the tension.
Moody, who founded a chain of auto body collision centers and ran for governor as an independent in 2010, has called himself an "outsider businessman" like Trump and LePage. He got LePage's daughter, wife and political consultant on board.
But when asked about his temperament compared with Trump's or the governor's, Moody points to his "collaborative" personal style. Before June's primary, he vowed to fight to repeal voter-approved Medicaid expansion; now he's stressing he wants to work with lawmakers and hospitals to fund the law.
"You need buy-in," Moody said. He said he needs lawmakers' support to implement his plans to bring back Mainers who've moved away, boost vocational training, reel in Maine's citizen referendum process and cut taxes, red tape and bloat.
Mills, meanwhile, has received LePage's ire for fighting Trump policies while refusing to represent LePage in legal matters she considers contrary to the public's interest.
She said Trump's Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is stoking fear over the court's direction on voting rights, health coverage, abortion and environmental protections.
"I think people are beginning to understand more and more so and more clearly that the protection of our rights is going to fall on state governments," Mills said.
Her campaign is focusing on grants, low-interest loans and broadband investments encouraging small businesses and people to live in Maine and work remotely.
Independents Caron and Hayes say they hope to appeal to independent voters who comprise the largest voting bloc in a state that's elected moderates such as Republican Sen. Susan Collins and former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Hayes has brushed off calls to drop out from Democrats concerned that independents will be "spoilers," while Caron says he'll make a decision in mid-October.
Caron said he's tired of Trump and LePage's calls to bring back struggling industries. Maine must grow jobs, seek energy independence and stop offering tax breaks for "promises."
"We've spent so much time trying to return to the past," said Caron, who has heavily self-financed his campaign.
Former lawmaker Hayes is focused on eliminating gridlock in Augusta, and wants support for local programs that are working.
"We're not going to be able to solve those challenges if we keep fighting with each other," said Hayes, who's running with public campaign funding.