President Trump is pushing Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to run for the U.S. Senate, according to White House advisers.
Trump has told advisers that he plans to call LePage, who endorsed him in February 2016, and ask him to jump in against Sen. Angus King in 2018 and offer his endorsement. King is an independent who often caucuses with the Democrats.
White House officials have been in touch with LePage’s political team in recent weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.
LePage’s name came up again Tuesday at a White House meeting on Senate candidates, the officials said, as Trump and his team went through a list of states and races — including Arizona, Missouri and Maine — looking at individual candidates and poll numbers.
Trump was cautioned from making too many major decisions because the field is so fluid, according to one Republican with knowledge of the talks. Among the discussion at the meeting was Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and whether she will get in the Senate race, and whether the president would support her, according to a person with knowledge of the talks.
“The president is actively engaged in fundraising, candidate recruitment and other efforts to help elect Republicans up and down the ballot,” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman. He declined to comment on the LePage conversations, calling them private.
Messages left for LePage’s office were not immediately returned.
LePage's approval rating in Maine is at 42 percent, according to Morning Consult, ranking him the nation's seventh-least popular governor. He has caught flak in Maine for controversial statements about minorities, threatening comments to a lawmaker in a voice-mail message and an assertion that he makes up stories to fool the political press, whom he castigates in personal terms.
“I am after you,” he told the lawmaker.
He said drug dealers named “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty — these types of guys” come into the state to impregnate a “young, white girl.”
He also has a contentious relationship with the state’s senior senator, Susan Collins (R).
But LePage has also won election twice and cut taxes in Maine while reducing some regulations and he has raised the amount of money the state has in the bank.
“Angus King is a very strong candidate for reelection,” said Amy Fried, chair of the political science department at the University of Maine. “His approval ratings have been high, he takes a lot of care in staying in touch with Maine, and he is a strong, popular independent.”
But Fried also said that LePage “certainly has a strong base” and high name-recognition.
LePage is a favorite of Trump, White House officials say. The president will occasionally ask about him unprompted or will see him on TV and make positive comments. He reminds people that LePage was an early endorser, even though the New York Times reported that LePage first drafted a letter disavowing Trump and his politics before endorsing him.
“Governor LePage of Maine, who by the way has lost a lot of weight,” Trump said in April, introducing him. “I knew him when he was heavy and now I know him when he's thin. I like him both ways.”
King said little when asked if he had any comment about the news after a SEnate vote on Wednesday afternoon.
“No, I’m working, I’m working here,” he said.
“That’s between the president and the governor,” he added
Asked if he had any thoughts on LePage’s qualifications to serve in the U.S. Senate, King said, “No, none.”
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this story.