Updated 6:30 p.m.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage shocked fellow Republicans last week when he said President Barack Obama “hates white people.”
Two state Republican lawmakers present at the event confirmed the comment to the Portland Press Herald, withholding their names for fear of political blow-back.
Both said that the governor, speaking at a party meet-and-greet with Maine’s new GOP chairman, said the president could have been the best president if he had highlighted his biracial heritage, but posited that he hadn’t done so because he hates white people.
“Yeah, he said it,” one of the lawmakers who confirmed the story told the Portland Press Herald. “It was one little thing from a speech, but I think most people there thought it was totally inappropriate.”
Following media reports, the governor denied the remarks.
“I never said that,” the governor said while walking away from reporters.
“And you guys are all about gossip!” he said, turning with a pointed finger.
LePage is one of the country’s most unpopular governors. Just 39% of Maine residents approved of the job he’s doing in a January poll and his net approval rating is in the negative. He’s considered to be one of the more vulnerable governors for 2014. In 2010, he narrowly won a three-way face-off against Independent Eliot Cutler, who has already announced he’ll challenge the governor again.
These aren’t the governor’s first controversial and provocative remarks.
During his campaign for the governorship, LePage said he’d tell the president to “go to hell” if elected. He later apologized for his word choice, but not the message.
A year later, LePage declined to attend a NAACP meeting, saying if they didn’t like it, he would “tell them to kiss my butt.”
Earlier this summer, LePage made a crude remark about state Sen. Troy Jackson during budget negotiations, telling TV reporters Jackson “claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
“It was a typical, off the cuff, off the script, Paul LePage comment,” an attendee told the Bangor Daily News, confirming the remark on the president and race.
Others present at the event said they didn’t hear the governor make the specific remarks and that his comments were informal. Maine’s new GOP chairman, Rick Bennett, told the same paper that LePage had commented on race and the president, but said he “didn’t hear” LePage say the remark in question.
An adviser released a statement following reports on the incident, saying “it seems farfetched for anyone, even a newspaper, to make an insinuation the governor is racist given his life history.”
The statement goes on to describe a young Jamaican man the governor and his family took in while he attended high school in Maine.
A request for comment to the Maine GOP was not immediately returned.