PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Once cheered for their no-nonsense leadership, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Maine Gov. Paul LePage are betting their big personalities can boost each other's political fortunes. The Republican governors have struggled through a series of largely self-inflicted controversies that now jeopardize their political futures.
The embattled Christie was set to take questions from out-of-state reporters Wednesday for the first time in months as he helps raise money for LePage. Democrats seized on the Portland-area event, charging that the Republican governors are little more than bullies driven by combative personalities.
"They seem to be two governors in America who have perfected the tirade, which usually leaves their constituents embarrassed for their words and actions," said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
The stakes are highest for the New Jersey governor as he eyes a 2016 presidential campaign. Christie faces regular criticism for his blunt approach and was trying to revive his presidential aspirations damaged from the scandal involving his aides and the George Washington Bridge.
Federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation after internal documents revealed that senior members of Christie's team intentionally clogged traffic near the bridge, apparently to punish a political adversary last fall. Christie has insisted he had no prior knowledge of the incident and fired the aides involved.
Christie was trying to move forward with his official duties as chairman of the Republican Governor's Association on Wednesday when he was scheduled to headline fundraisers to benefit LePage and the Maine GOP.
LePage, meanwhile, is facing a daunting re-election challenge. LePage has vetoed the most bills of any governor in the state since he won with just over 38 percent of the vote in 2010. He's withheld millions of dollars in voter-approved bonds until the Legislature passed bills he wanted and briefly barred his commissioners from testifying before lawmakers.
He's uses "incredible tactics to get what he wants, no matter what the cost," said Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, a Democrat from Portland. LePage once used a sexual vulgarity to criticize a Democratic lawmaker, told the Portland branch of the NAACP to "kiss my butt" and compared the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo.
Political observers say LePage stands the best chance of winning if Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler split the Democratic vote. But LePage's campaign says that Democrats are trying to paint the governor as a "bully" to distract voters from his accomplishments that have helped Maine.
"Democrats know they can't win elections based on policies, so instead they go to character assassination," said Brent Littlefield, LePage's chief political adviser.