PORTLAND, Maine — Continuing his early efforts to win votes, Democrat Mike Michaud touted an economic plan Wednesday that calls for investments in renewable energy, college tuition waivers, infrastructure improvements aimed at helping businesses and help for farmers and fishermen to make Maine the "food basket of New England."
In his first major policy address since announcing his candidacy, Michaud described the economic plan as both bold in scope and realistic in terms of cost.
"We can have economic growth and a clean environment. We can have thriving businesses and well-paid employees. With the right ideas, we can move Maine forward, together," he said.
The five-term congressman is running against Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, a three-way race that has shaped up months ahead of primaries and deadlines for independent candidates.
Cutler published a 104-page book last fall outlining his vision of the future of Maine, and both he and Michaud are trying to convince undecided voters that they can beat LePage.
"You definitely want to get out there as early as possible. If you're Michaud, you want to create the impression that you're the one, the only one, who can prevent a second term for Paul LePage. Michaud and Cutler both need to do this," said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.
During a news conference in Portland, Michaud brushed aside questions of about the expense of his plan, saying the state can afford the cost, estimated at $36 million in the first year. Eliminating tuition for the sophomore year for students at state colleges and universities alone would cost $15 million.
Many of his proposals should appeal to Democrats, such as increasing the minimum wage, making the earned income tax credit refundable and expanding Medicaid for 70,000 Mainers under the federal health care law.
His 32-page economic plan focused on six areas: small businesses, the workforce, farms and fisheries, tourism, renewable energy and communities.
LePage wasted no time in firing back.
Campaign spokesman Brent Littlefield said Michaud has never created a private sector job. "Paul LePage has spent most of his lifetime turning around businesses, creating jobs and helping grow Maine's economy. Having survived homelessness, no one knows more, or cares more about Maine's working poor and middle class, than Paul LePage," he said.
Cutler, who said Michaud borrowed from some of the ideas in his proposal, described the Democrat's proposal as "a typical Washington, D.C., big government, big spending approach with lots of new programs and millions of dollars in new spending."
Michaud's decision to get out early with his economic vision dubbed "Maine Made" will help to answer critics who say Michaud is a nice guy who doesn't have many accomplishments to show for his years in Washington, Brewer said.
Whether his economic plan could be enacted would depend largely upon whether the Maine Legislature remains in Democratic control after the November election.
"We question whether Michaud could implement any of these reforms because he is so beholden to his party, the unions and the corporate special interests who have fueled his political career," Cutler said.
Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP