There are two words Kevin Raye doesn’t want to hear when he’s out on the campaign trail next year.

No, not, “Buzz off, you mustard-smeared, RINO-infected retread.”

Which is way more than two words, even if you count the hyphenated combos as one apiece (a practice employed by cheapskate editors, who pay by the word).

The phrase Raye, the current president of the Maine Senate and the likely 2012 Republican 2nd District congressional candidate, hopes never gets uttered while he’s shaking hands and kissing babies is:

Paul LePage.

Because no matter what Raye says after that, it’s going to cost him votes.

Raye is part of the moderate wing of the GOP, fiscally conservative but close to the middle on social issues. Even though he’s a small business owner — he and his wife operate a mustard-manufacturing company in Eastport — he doesn’t have much in common with the foaming-at-the-mouth (darn, more hyphens, which means less pay), anti-government Tea Party types. Those are the people who claim Raye is a Republican In Name Only (RINO). And the way they prove that charge is to subject suspects to a two-word test:

Grey Poupon.

I suppose that works pretty well in smoking out limousine liberals and champagne conservatives, but Raye, being a business rival of that particular brand, probably never touches the stuff. So, the right-wingers will have to rely on his reaction to the governor’s name.

What these fanatics consider to be the correct response to any mention of LePage is something like this:

“I love that guy. Love him. Just love him. But, y’know, I think he’s startin’ to change since he’s been in Augusta. He’s bein’ influenced by them career politicians. He ain’t goin’ far enough. I figured by now he’d been near finished with abolishin’ gummint altogether. So, I love him, but I’m a tad disappointed it’s takin’ so long for him to stop the cops from comin’ ‘round here lookin’ for my meth lab.”

Unfortunately for Raye, he’s one of those career pols who spent the last session of the Legislature modifying LePage’s proposals so they a) stood some chance of passing and b) made a little sense. If he said what he really thinks (“The governor has Grey Poupon for brains”), he’d lose the hardcore LePage supporters. But if he appears to praise the guy too much, there’s a danger he’ll alienate moderate voters who are put off by the guv’s whacky ways.

To date, Raye has tiptoed around that conflict, which is tricky to do if you have a tendency to leave mustard tracks behind you. When he talks about regulatory reform, he always mentions LePage in passing (“… and Governor LePage …”), without bothering to note that his original bill easing rules on businesses was almost entirely rewritten by legislators to remove politically unpalatable sections.

Same thing when he talks about the budget (“… and Governor LePage …”). And health care. And taxes. Just enough notice so he can’t be accused of snubbing the state’s chief executive. Not quite enough to allow any juicy quotes to be taken out of context and used by Democrats to smear him for sucking up to the governor.

Maintaining this delicate balance isn’t easy (you’ve got a mustard stain on your lapel, Kevin, and it’s causing you to tilt to the left). Raye’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, has spent years building his image as a middle-of-the-roader (no, darn it, that counts as four words, you skinflint). All Michaud’s supporters need to do is link Raye and LePage in the minds of the 61 percent of voters who didn’t cast ballots for the governor in 2010, and a sixth term in Congress is the incumbent’s for the taking.

Raye isn’t alone in wavering between LePage condemnation and contamination. Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe has been targeted for defeat in the GOP primary by the national Tea Party movement for holding positions nearly identical to Raye’s. But Snowe has thus far stifled local TPers from doing any serious organizing against her (she has two primary opponents, both a couple of lawn signs shy of a campaign) because she’s been endorsed by LePage.

Democrats would love to exploit that link in next fall’s general election, but that would require finding a strong candidate. So far, all they have is Matthew Dunlap (suggested campaign motto: A Mediocre Ex-Secretary of State With Pro-Gun Positions That’ll Really Appeal to the Far-Left Voters Who Turn Out in Democratic Primaries) and state Rep. Jon Hinck (Like Another Ethan Strimling Only With Even Less Appeal Outside Portland’s West End).

Snowe can still pull north of 60 percent of the vote, even if she’s caught making out with LePage in public — with tongue.

Raye, however, will have to watch where he puts his tongue. He can’t use it to kiss the governor’s butt. When mentioning LePage’s name, he can’t stick it in his cheek. He’ll frequently have to bite it.

It’s a no-win-no-matter-what-he-does situation. (What do you mean that only counts as one word?)

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