By Dave Sherwood
PORTLAND Maine (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton will come to Maine on Tuesday to campaign for the Democratic candidate for governor, Mike Michaud, party officials announced this week, shining a national spotlight on one of the most closely contended gubernatorial races of 2014.
Recent polls show Michaud, a five-term U.S. representative and former paper mill worker who would be the country’s first governor to declare he is gay before taking office, in a statistical dead heat with Tea Party-backed incumbent Paul Lepage.
An independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, trails by a wider margin.
The Michaud/Clinton rally, which will take place along the Portland, Maine waterfront on Tuesday night, sold out in just three hours, campaign officials said.
"I’ve always admired President Clinton for his ability to work across the aisle to get things done, which is something we’ve been missing here in Maine under Gov. LePage," Michaud said in a statement.
Lepage is often at odds with Democrats in control of the state legislature and has vetoed more bills than any other governor in state history.
Republican Party officials called Clinton’s arrival a sign of a troubled campaign.
"President Clinton is certainly a high-profile surrogate, and that's what it takes to make uninspired candidates like Mike Michaud ... seem interesting," said Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen.
The Maine governor’s race is increasingly drawing national attention. Earlier this month, the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, visited Maine and pledged to spend "whatever it takes" to help Lepage win re-election.
The governor’s association this week launched a television ad campaign touting accomplishments like a falling unemployment rate and welfare reforms, and calling Lepage "blunt, honest, one-of-a-kind."
The outspoken Lepage, who was elected on a wave of support in 2010 from the increasingly influential Tea Party, gained national notoriety when he told state leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to "kiss my butt," called climate change "a scam," and made a crude sexual remark about an opposition leader’s use of Vaseline.
The Maine governor’s race is also a target of billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has promised to spend $50 million to attack the campaigns of Republican climate change skeptics throughout the United States.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Jonathan Oatis)