Talking Politics

McKee’s approval ratings are low, but does it matter?

By Ian Donnis
Posted 7/29/22

On the surface, a new Morning Consult finding showing Gov. Dan McKee as the lowest-ranked governor in the nation (with a 38% approval rating) doesn’t reflect well on the incumbent. But if McKee …

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Talking Politics

McKee’s approval ratings are low, but does it matter?


On the surface, a new Morning Consult finding showing Gov. Dan McKee as the lowest-ranked governor in the nation (with a 38% approval rating) doesn’t reflect well on the incumbent. But if McKee can win 38% of the Democratic primary vote on Sept. 13, he’ll be in a very strong position to duke it out in the November general election.

Polls by WPRI and The Boston Globe indicate a gap between McKee’s approval and his support, and that’s a red flag for his campaign, particularly in a season when voters are ornery about inflation and COVID fatigue. McKee has rolled up a series of union endorsements from groups, including United Nurses and Allied Professionals and the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council – backing that should translate into a few percentage points of support in the primary.

The governor’s first TV ad – featuring McKee’s 94-year-old mother, Willa, in a bit of a star turn – attracted a positive response. At the same time, the primary outcome is far from certain; either of the other top two Democrats, Nellie Gorbea and Helena Buonanno Foulkes, could win the Sept. 13 primary. (Gorbea led McKee in the recent Globe poll, and Foulkes’ support has been climbing as voters become more familiar with her – and backed by a super PAC, she still has a lot of money to deploy).

The intensity of the race revved up this week, with less than eight weeks to go. The outcome will turn on the relative effectiveness of the candidates’ ground game and how their messaging (likely sharper and more biting in the weeks ahead) lands on voters in an anxious age.

BIDEN: Before testing positive, President Biden last week visited the site of the former Brayton Point power plant in nearby Somerset, Mass., to talk up the transition to renewable energy. The trip followed the collapse of efforts to get a major climate change spending package through Congress.

Here’s an excerpt from my colleague Ben Berke’s report: “Massachusetts has the nation’s largest pipeline of offshore wind projects under development. Offshore wind farms proposed in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard already have contracts in place with the state’s utility providers to supply about 25% of Massachusetts’ electricity needs. Nearby in Rhode Island, the governor supports legislation to establish enough power purchase agreements with offshore wind companies to supply roughly half of the state’s electricity needs. But this pipeline of offshore wind farms is expensive to construct and difficult to finance in an environment where changing political winds can make or break a wind farm’s chances for federal approval, which all of them require because of their location far off the coast in federal waters.”

THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR: Here are some short takes from my Political Roundtable interview with Nellie Gorbea last week:

While Helena Buonanno Foulkes points to her senior management experience with CVS Health, which has a vastly bigger budget and many more employees than the state, Gorbea cites her mix of private and public sector familiarity as being preferable, adding, “[G]overnment is very different in how it runs than the private sector.”

Gorbea uncut: “We absolutely need, and I will push as governor, a constitutional amendment that says that every Rhode Island child has a right to a quality education. That is fundamental, because it gives the legal framework to hold systems accountable. And it says that that is our mission statement, our values is that every child should have a quality education.”

In her first TV ad, Gorbea said she didn’t come from a well-connected family. I asked how she squared that with how her father was the CEO of a significant corporation in her native Puerto Rico. Gorbea responded by saying she built her own professional career in Rhode Island. On whether the ad oversold the premise that her plan to raise corporate taxes would really generate enough revenue to fix the housing crisis and expand pre-K to every child, Gorbea said in part, “Look, my proposal is with regards to how we should meet any kind of budget deficits. It was not a one-time solution for everything.”

MCKEEWORLD: Attorney General Peter Neronha has found that a former high-level state official did not break the law while pursuing a development project in Cumberland on a lot consisting mostly of wetlands – but that he did show “very poor judgment.” The finding involves Anthony J. Silva, formerly chief of staff for Gov. Dan McKee. (Neronha said there is no evidence indicating that McKee advocated for Silva in this matter.)

CITY HAUL: With the race for governor and CD2 getting most of the media attention, there’s also a three-way Democratic primary to effectively pick the next mayor of Providence. Gonzalo Cuervo got an endorsement this week from state Sen. Sam Bell, while Brett Smiley countered with backing from state Rep. Scott Slater, and Nirva LaFortune won the endorsement of the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence. In related news, The Public’s Radio is presenting a mayoral forum on the arts this coming Monday, July 25, from 7-9 p.m., on the roof deck of the WaterFire Arts Center.

GINAWORLD: With Democrats so far offering tepid support for another presidential run by Joe Biden, Gina Raimondo got a mere honorable mention in a recent Washington Post look at possible alternative Democratic candidates for 2024. For now, the former RI governor, fresh from a recent appearance on Meet the Press, remains all over the news, whether pressing for U.S. production of semiconductors or downplaying talk of a recession.

GUNS: Attorney General Peter Neronha has found that the recent Supreme Court decision on guns does not affect the status quo when it comes to permit applications in Rhode Island. The minority whip in the RI Senate, Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield), said she plans to introduce a bill to codify the SCOTUS case because, she said, she thinks denied applicants might be forced by Neronha to spend time and money on their appeals.

Ian Donnis can be reached at

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