Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Race of the Day- Rhode Island Governor

41 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Rhode Island was the home to the first Jewish synagogue in the United States, so perhaps it is appropriate that we focus on that state during the Rosh Hashanah High Holiday.

Despite being among the most Democrat states in the country, Rhode Island has not elected a Democrat as Governor since 1990. Republicans have won every one of the elections since, with the exception of the last one, as Lincoln Chafee, running as an Independent, narrowly beat the GOP nominee in a three way race. Chafee ran to the left in that race over the official Democrat nominee, and had the endorsement of Barack Obama.

Of course, Governor Chafee was once a Republican. His father John, had served as Governor and for many years in the U.S. Senate, but remained a loyal moderate Republican. Lincoln would go on to succeed his father in the Senate, but amassed a record that was fairly liberal. In the strong Democrat year of 2006, Chafee would lose his seat in a general election, after having been heavily supported by national Republican figures during a primary challenge. In 2010, he probably could have had the GOP nomination for Governor and might have been a heavy favorite, but instead choose to run as a liberal Independent. Chafee struggled politically as Governor though and proved to be unpopular as he pondered whether he seek reelection as either an Independent or as a Democrat. Ultimately, he announced he would officially join the majority party in his state, but nonetheless, looked very vulnerable in either a general election or a Democrat primary. Republicans would have preferred he remained an Independent, in order to have split the vote, in a way that helped elect a GOP Governor in nearby Maine. In any event, Chafee's zig-zagging political saga came to an end a little over a year ago when he announced he would not seek a second term. The Ocean State finally had a Democrat as Governor, but not one that was elected as one nor one that would be reelected.

Several candidates seemed to be lining up to compete in the Democrat primary, even before Chafee dropped in and then out of that process. The front-runner for most of the campaign was State Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who would be the state's first woman Governor. She would win this month's primary by a somewhat surprising double digit margin over Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, a Dominican-American. Finishing in third place was Clay Pell, an ambitious 32 year old former Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education. However, Pell might have been best known as the grandson and namesake of one of the state's Democrat legends who had served for decades as a U.S. Senator. The younger Pell is also married to former U.S. figure skating champion Michelle Kwan. Just days before the vote, Governor Chafee, also of course the scion of a political family, offered his endorsement to Pell. That might have hurt more than it helped. While the state party is quite liberal, Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, was the victory, despite being considered the most moderate of the three major candidates.

Republicans also had a contested and competitive primary. After several of the more well known names declined to run, two emerged to compete for the nomination. One of them was Ken Block, a businessman who received six percent of the vote in the 2010 general election as the nominee of the Moderate Party, finishing well behind the other three candidates. The choice of the GOP establishment was Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Chinese-American, who like the Democrat Tavares, was competing to become the state's first non-white Governor. A well liked public, Fung had to address an incident from his past early this year. As an 18 year old, he had briefly passed out while driving and killed a man on the road. A grand jury at the time decided that no charges were warranted.

While some early polls showed Block could possibly take the Republican nomination, Fung eventually prevailed by about 10 points and was set to face off with Raimondo for the right to be the "first" something in the long history of Rhode Island Governors. Conventional wisdom would seem to hold that the Democrat holds the edge, but the only poll released this month, albeit an internal one from the Fung campaign, shows an absolute dead heat. A somewhat well-known candidate (who was basically the de facto Republican Lt. Governor candidate in 2010) is also on the ballot representing the Moderate Party and it remains to be seen if he has the potential to harm either of the major party nominees. Just today, Block, the former Moderate Party standard bearer, officially endorsed Fung, who had beaten him for the GOP nomination this year.

This race will probably be decided on local issues and retail politics in the small state, as well as debates and candidate forums may also come heavily into play. Democrats do tend to win most races in Rhode Island, so absent some further evidence that might show Fung ahead, I have to give at least a very slight edge to Raimondo. Nonetheless, this very much is a horse race and one worth watching. The state may not be overly likely to send a Republican to Washington, but it is worth mentioning that the GOP nominee has finished ahead of the Democrat nominee for Governor in each of the last five elections.

Fung campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 14 D (1 Safe, 5 Likely, 4 Leans, 4 Tossup) , 15 R (4 Safe, 5 Likely, 6 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 21 D, 22 R (Democrat net gain of 1)