In an effort to clarify how he really feels about Social Security, Gov. Paul LePage launched a series of robo-calls to targeted voters this week. This follows a press reolease he issued last week that defined Social Security and Medicare benefits as "welfare." LePage now says that's not accurate. But instead of issuing a correction, the governor is blaming the media for the snafu. And his opponents are dismissing it as too little, too late.
It started with a press statement from the governor's office that was supposed to be an upbeat assessment of Maine's improving economy. LePage referenced a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that he said was concealing welfare benefits that were being made under the heading of Personal Current Transfer Receipts.
He then went on to state in the release, "These 'Transfer Receipts' include: Social Security benefits; Medicare payments; Medicaid; and state unemployment insurance benefits." But that's not what he's saying now in a series of robo-calls that he hopes will win back those retired Mainers that his original message may have alienated.
"This is your governor, Paul LePage, I do not believe that Social Security is welfare," LePage says in the robo-call.
Although the governor has been known to admit his administration's mistakes in the past, he's not doing so in these robo-calls. Instead, he blames the Portland Press Herald for its reporting on the issue - although he never specifically mentions the paper.
He also throws his gubernatorial opponents into the mix. "Unfortunately, liberal newspapers owned by a billionaire who opposes me with liberal politicians Michael Michaud and Eliot Cutler presented you with false information," LePage says.
Without saying his office had made the mistake, LePage quickly moves on in the robo-calls to explain how much he respects the Social Security program and the seniors who rely on it. As LePage campaign spokesman Alex Willette points out: That's not by accident.
"This is a very important voter bloc for the campaign," Willette says. "But I think it was important for us to make sure that seniors in Maine understand that the governor has fought for them over the last four years in office."
According to a 2012 study by U.S. News and World Report, Maine is among the top three states in the country when it comes to the number of seniors who regularly vote in statewide elections. The report indicated that 76 percent of Maine residents 65 and older cast ballots in 2010, a year when total voter turnout statewide was 57 percent.
Those voters, along with baby boomers who will turn 65 over the next four years, might take offense at having a gubernatorial candidate classify the Social Security and Medicare benefits they paid into during their working careers as welfare. And Willette wants them to know that LePage has always believed in both programs.
"He's paid into it for 40-plus years and is a strong supporter of taking care of the program and making sure that Social Security is strong for those people who have paid into it throughout their careers," Willette says.
"The governor says a lot of different things, but his press release made it very clear: He felt Social Security and Medicare were welfare programs," says Congressman Mike Michaud.
LePage's efforts to perform damage control over his inaccurate press release provided a welcomed opening for Michaud, LePage's Democratic opponent, and the state's 2nd District congressman.
Michaud made sure that his audience got the message at a Maine People's Alliance press event yesterday. "Despite what some uninformed politicians may say, Social Security is not welfare either," Michaud said.
In a prepared statement, LePage's other opponent, independent Eliot Cutler, said the press release snafu was another chaotic distraction in the governor's campaign and "the kind of mess a governor creates when he calls everything he doesn't like 'welfare' and everyone who disagrees with him a 'liberal.' "