Monday morning, Mike Michaud, the representative from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and current Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner, came out as gay in the pages of the Portland Press Herald. (Not everyone saw it coming.) After noting that “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” have been used to make “people question whether I am gay,” Michaud declares:
Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: “Yes I am. But why should it matter?” That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.
Michaud’s question is a good one: Why should it matter that he, or anybody else, is gay? If homosexuality isn’t sinful or embarrassing, there’s really no reason to hide it—or to highlight it as one’s top qualification. (Tammy Baldwin, America’s first openly gay senator, captured this equilibrium perfectly in her recent run.) Michaud clearly gets this. In his op-ed, after outing himself, the congressman goes on to describe his blue-collar, hardscrabble family history, as well as his legislative achievements and his gubernatorial platform. The word gay appears twice, sexual orientation once. The piece is one part coming-out letter, three parts stump speech.
Politically, Michaud’s announcement isn’t likely to sink him—or boost him. In 2012, Maine voters approved same-sex marriage, with 53 percent of voters on board, in a historic statewide referendum. (Mainers still support marriage equality by that same margin.) Most of the “no” votes on the referendum came from Michaud’s conservative-leaning congressional district, the second most rural in America, while the “yes” votes sprang mostly from the urban, coastal pockets in the state’s 1st Congressional District. That shouldn’t be a problem for Michaud: In the governor’s race, the congressman will be vying for these urban votes in addition to his home district’s votes. These pro-gay votes are likely to outweigh any anti-gay votes from Maine’s rural interior.
If Michaud’s sexuality won’t be a problem for him, it almost certainly will be for Maine’s current Tea Party-backed Gov. Paul LePage. LePage, a social conservative, is known for his churlish ad libs, including a possible anal rape joke about a Democratic state senator. Assuming LePage gets the Republican nomination, the 2014 Maine gubernatorial matchup is sure to be one of the rowdiest—if least competitive—elections of the year.