What to expect from Paul LePage's comeback rally today in Augusta

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Sep. 22—Good morning from Augusta. Former Gov. Paul LePage is holding a 2022 campaign kickoff rally at the Augusta Civic Center this evening. Doors open at 4:30. His remarks will be streamed on the Bangor Daily News' website and we will have analysis afterward.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's nice to have good news, isn't it?" said Dr. Deborah Hagler, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Maine chapter in Brunswick, on Pfizer's announcement that its vaccine appears effective for children between ages 5 and 11. Here's your soundtrack.

What we're watching today

The kickoff will provide insight into the former governor's plans and style. LePage has hinted at how he might campaign this time around in quiet appearances over the past few months, pitching a mellower version of himself and being more of a team player with legislative Republicans. There is room for healthy skepticism: He has repeated a false claim about Maine's COVID-19 death rate in nursing homes on the stump.

He is likely to try to leverage Republican anger at perceived overreach under Gov. Janet Mills while pushing many of the policy priorities that he talked about as governor, including calling for stronger voter identification laws and eliminating state income tax. Today's rally will test whether the off-the-cuff speaker can put forward a different image before a crowd full of people who adored him at his most bombastic.

The race kicks into high gear today with about 13 months until Election Day. LePage enters the race in an unusual spot. He has near-universal name recognition, something most candidates would have to build at this stage, along with the full backing of the Maine Republican Party, which has effectively cleared the primary field for him.

But the former governor's third statewide run is almost certainly his most difficult. Maine Democrats have strengthened their voter registration advantage over the past decade. Mills registered a 48 percent approval rating in a Spectrum News/Ipsos poll released last week — not a sparkling number, but still 1 percentage point higher than LePage's best mark during his tenure. The current governor has filed to run and is fundraising, saying in a Tuesday email to supporters that a launch event is on the way "in the coming months."

Much can change between now and fall 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic is still the dominant issue in Maine politics right now, but other issues could become central if infections slow down. While there are no major independent candidates at this time, former state Sen. Tom Saviello, an anti-Central Maine Power corridor advocate, has not ruled out a run.

The race is also likely to attract significant money, with AdImpact predicting record ad spending here for a gubernatorial race, though the nature of a state-level race means things are unlikely to get as bad (i.e., expensive) as last year's U.S. Senate race.

The Maine politics top 3

— "Maine hospitals 'in for a bumpy ride' with record COVID-19 patients stretching capacity," Caitlin Andrews, BDN: "A record number of 225 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday, eclipsing a record set the day before. On Monday, 90 percent of those hospitalized were unvaccinated, continuing a trend with relatively few breakthrough cases occurring in the state. The state had 48 critical care beds available with 82 people in those units, which are increasingly becoming defined by the number of people available to staff them as a workforce shortage stretches further."

— "Democrats, GOP strike deal to redraw Maine's 151 House districts," Jessica Piper, BDN: "There were no major changes to the districts in Maine's largest cities, with Portland still split between eight districts and Lewiston and Bangor split across four each. But Bradley would be moved into a low-population district now comprising Old Town and Indian Island. The Ellsworth-Trenton district was divided, with Ellsworth to be combined with lower-population Waltham and Trenton moving into a district with towns on the Blue Hill Peninsula."

The commission will hold a public hearing at 9 a.m. tomorrow to receive feedback on the maps. Lawmakers still have to come to an agreement on new maps for Maine's 35 Senate districts and two congressional districts after Republicans and Democrats put forward separate proposals last week. There are only five days left until the commission's deadline.

— "Afghan refugees could come to Bangor if feds approve resettlement request," David Marino Jr., BDN: "Catholic Charities of Maine has applied through its national parent organization for the U.S. State Department's approval to settle refugees in the Bangor area in the future, said Hannah DeAngelis, the organization's director of refugee and immigration services. Current regulations require that all refugees be settled within 100 miles of the organization's base in Portland, which puts Bangor off limits."

Today's Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews and edited by Michael Shepherd. If you're reading this on the BDN's website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

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