STORY OF THE WEEK: CD2 Republican Allan Fung is projecting a sunny disposition in ads and media appearances while making his case in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District. This serves a …
STORY OF THE WEEK: CD2 Republican Allan Fung is projecting a sunny disposition in ads and media appearances while making his case in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District. This serves a twofold purpose: 1) it builds on Fung’s acknowledged likeability as the former 12-year mayor of Cranston; and 2) it aims to inoculate him from the boogeyman represented by D.C. Republicans. So far, the approach is working – polls by WPRI/RWU and the Boston Globe/Suffolk University respectiely show Fung with a six-point and eight-point lead over Democrat Seth Magaziner (with a 6.2 and a 5 percentage point margin of error), and one in four Democrats are supporting Fung.
Magaziner’s campaign says its tracking shows a smaller gap in the race, with voters most concerned about abortion and Social Security. So far, though, a visit to RI by Kevin McCarthy, a flotilla of Democratic ads about abortion and Jan. 6, and Fung’s go-soft approach on outrageous statements by Donald Trump do not appear to have changed the landscape.
After losses while running for governor in 2014 and 2018, Fung must be feeling good about his chance of scoring a rare GOP win for a federal office in Rhode Island. (That would be ironic, given how Fung became a Republican years ago after finding a less-than-welcoming reception among Cranston Democrats). It was that prospect of CD2 flipping that alarmed RI’s congressional delegation and sparked Magaziner’s entry in the CD2 race, after running for governor, back in January.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is stepping up his support, with the state’s congressional delegation hosting a fundraiser last week for Magaziner on the rooftop of Joe Paolino’s Bellini in Providence. And Democrats have to take solace from how analysts like the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman still rate the race as a tossup. “For Fung, getting 46% to ~49% he needs to win is going to be really tough in a Biden +14 seat,” Wasserman tweeted after the WPRI poll. Fung has to hope the outcome is an inverse of the 2006 U.S. Senate battle between then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, when George W. Bush’s unpopularity overrode Chafee’s high approval rating. The Fung-Magaziner showdown was always expected to be close – and the weeks until Nov. 8 will be a dogfight. The two candidates are set to go head-to-head in a series of upcoming debates, and their performances – as well as which candidate best speaks to the economic concerns of voters – could decide the outcome.
RI GOVERNOR: The bad news for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus is that she faces a 13-point gap in her challenge to Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, according to WPRI. The Globe poll has her 10 points down. The good news for Kalus is that she has a solid lead over McKee among independents – the biggest bloc of voters in Rhode Island – and upcoming debates will give her the chance to hammer McKee
DEMOCRATS FOR KALUS: Former Rhode Island House Speaker Matthew J. Smith, an ardent Democrat, is firmly behind the GOP candidate for governor, he tells me, due to her pro-life stance. “I’m pro-life, I always have been,” said Smith, who served as speaker for a big chunk of the 1980s. Smith said he was impressed by Kalus’ knowledge, her grasp of government and her willingness to take on a difficult race. The former speaker declined to speak for his son, Matthew B. Smith, a legal counsel for the state Department of Administration who serves as chief municipal judge in Cranston, although the younger Smith (who could not be reached for comment) is also said to be supporting Kalus.
CANNABIS CONFIDENTIAL: The new body that will set the regulations for legalized cannabis and decide who gets 24 social equity licenses has yet to take shape, more than four months after the legalization of recreational cannabis. The law called for Gov. Dan McKee to appoint the three members of the Cannabis Control Commission by July 4, 40 days after the law’s effective date of May 25. In a July 21 letter to McKee, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi suggested three nominees: former Rep. Robert Jacquard, Stephen M. McCartney, and Rachel Russell. The governor can accept the suggestions or make his own choices; they are subject to Senate confirmation.
McKee communications director Andrea Palagi tells me the delay in making the appointments is due to how the General Assembly is on recess: “The governor’s three appointments to this commission are subject to advice and consent of the Senate and the Governor intends to submit names to the Senate at the beginning of the next session so they can move through the A&C process promptly thereafter.”
TAKE OF THE WEEK: Welcome to a new regular feature in my column – a handful of local political observers sharing their insights and views on the news of the week.
KEN BLOCK: With campaign season in high gear, it is a good time to visit RI’s ancient campaign finance laws, which set limits back in 1992 on how much candidates could raise from individuals at $1,000 per year – those amounts have not changed since. If the limit kept pace with inflation it would be roughly $2,500 per year. Campaigns have become much more expensive due to the explosion of media advertising opportunities and expensive data analytics, among other things. Thirty-four states set campaign finance limits based on the election cycle, rather than annually – which removes the built-in advantage RI’s campaign finance laws give to incumbents, who can and do raise money each year. If we want to remove the influence of money given by outside organizations (and we should), we need to make it easier for statewide candidates to raise the money they need to run an effective campaign.
ROBERT A. WALSH JR: In 1986, a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion was soundly defeated by Rhode Island voters by a two-to-one margin. This year, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the abortion issue is polling second only to cost of living as a concern of Rhode Island voters. The ability of Seth Magaziner’s congressional campaign to mobilize voters concerned about protecting a woman’s right to choose may well determine the outcome of not only that race, but also which party ultimately controls Congress. Expect advertising paid by outside independent expenditures to continue to dominate our airwaves, as Rhode Island spends the next month in the unaccustomed position of being considered a battleground state.
SUE CIENKI: The Commerce Department has once again failed in its mission of resourcefulness, commitment and creativity by giving BankRI incentives to move over to the I-195 land. BankRI will leave its anchor space in the Turks Head Building in Providence to occupy new space in Providence. Commerce RI is moving the deck chairs on a sinking ship, rather than creating new opportunities and less regulations for businesses to move to Rhode Island. This decision comes after they committed to award $60 million for the “PAWSOCCER” stadium that Rhode Islanders do not want. We deserve better.
REP. DAVID MORALES: While a small sample size, recent polling shows Allan Fung with a lead over Seth Magaziner in their race to represent the Second Congressional District. Therefore, it’s clear, Treasurer Magaziner must start redirecting his strategy and focus on running a Democratic campaign centered around economic policies and values – not a glorified smear campaign against Republicans. Yes, Allan Fung is a Republican. However, for many working-class voters, especially registered independents, they care more about ideas and the level of outreach they’re receiving from candidates. In other words, the messaging of “I’m not a Republican” and the lack of field outreach is not an effective approach. As Democrats, we cannot just assume that Rhode Island is already a “blue state.” Now is the time for the Magaziner campaign to invest in a comprehensive field program and political ads centered around his ideas to address the rising cost of living related to healthcare, utilities, and housing.
NELLIE’S NEXT MOVE: Will Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s next adventure be as the next head of the Rhode Island Foundation? Gorbea tells me she’s interested, although things are at an early stage and she’s exploring a range of private sector options, both for-profit and nonprofit, as her time in elective office winds down. (Foundation President Neil Steinberg is set to retire next year; a search process is ongoing.) The perceived frontrunner for a long stretch of the Democratic primary for governor, Gorbea wound up placing behind Gov. McKee and Helena Buonanno Foulkes. “Rhode Island is a state full of lots of opportunity,” she tells me, although there’s a need to do a better job in bringing people together.
GUCKIAN’S CASE: First-time GOP candidate Aaron Guckian hopes that his wide-ranging experience – bank VP, Warwick Sewer Commission chair, assistant to former Gov. Don Carcieri, and RI Foundation philanthropic staffer – convinces Rhode Islanders to support him over Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos. “[Q]ualifications are so important, and who can take over in a crisis, or, as we saw with this situation where Governor Raimondo was elevated to the Biden administration and Governor McKee took over, you know, the impossible happened,” Guckian said during an interview this week on Political Roundtable: Election 2022. He said his main idea for the LG’s office is aiding small business and boosting efficiency: “So for example, when I go around to people that own restaurants, it's – there's no guidance. Everything comes in paper bills, the licensing, the fees. And what I suggest is one single sign-on, one username and password across all departments, and help people navigate.”
TAXING MATTERS: Since Guckian worked in the Carcieri administration, I asked him for signs of success for the upper bracket tax cut signed into law by the former governor. While people like Andy Boardman disagree, Guckian believes people still leave Rhode Island because of an unfriendly tax and regulatory regime. Carcieri’s tax cut has become enough of an issue that RI Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (before announcing he would not seek re-election) supported a proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Rhode Islanders.
The debate will persist at the Statehouse, where Speaker Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio remain sensitive to perceptions about the state’s business climate. Asked about this on Political Roundtable, Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, executive director of the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said, “We have to think of equity in the way we do policy. The poorest Rhode Islanders pay more taxes as a whole than the richest Rhode Islanders. It doesn't make sense for our moral or economical point of view. And so I say if we're thinking about how do we support our families, especially during a time of inflation, and we need to think about who are we taxing, who is taking the burden upon themselves, and it shouldn't be the poorest families.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.