PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island is set to elect its first female governor or its first Asian-American governor this November after General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung won their party’s nominations on Tuesday.
Raimondo, 43, took 42% of the vote in the Democratic primary to defeat Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who got 29%, and political newcomer Clay Pell, who got 27%, preliminary results show. Raimondo won the general treasurer’s office in 2010, and rose to prominence the next year for pushing through an overhaul of the state’s pension system.
“I think Rhode Island’s ready for a woman,” Raimondo told WPRI 12 after her victory speech Tuesday night. “I think we’ve seen a culture of insiders, which holds Rhode Island back. It’s time for new leadership and I think it’s time for a woman. It’s time for a leader to take on tough issues, bring people together and solve problems.”
Fung, 44, took 55% of the vote in the Republican primary to defeat Barrington businessman Ken Block, who sought the GOP nomination four years after running for governor as a Moderate. Fung was elected mayor of Cranston, the state’s third-largest city, in 2008 and is now in his third term.
“As a native Rhode Islander, I share their concerns, their pains,” Fung told WPRI 12 after his victory speech. “I’ve lived it throughout my life. … I’m the proud, proud son of immigrant parents and lived the American dream. I want that same opportunity for the next generation of Rhode Islanders.”
The two nominees’ respective parties quickly drew lines in the sand.
“The state’s already a better place because of Gina’s strong leadership,” Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a statement Tuesday night that did not mention Fung. He added: “When she wins in November, Gina will invest in education, support small businesses, and fight for an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest. It’s what she’s done her entire career.”
“Practical governance is long overdue in Providence, and Allan Fung is ready to restore it as Rhode Island’s next chief executive,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said in his statement late Tuesday. The association’s executive director, Phil Cox, argued that what Raimondo “brings to the table is more of the same washed up policies that are sinking the state today.”
More than 153,000 registered Rhode Island voters cast a ballot in the primary election, with roughly 123,000 votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and about 31,000 votes cast in the Republican race, according to preliminary results. That would put voter turnout in the primary at roughly 20%.
Rhode Island is a heavily Democratic state, with registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican by a four-to-one margin. But Republican candidates have won seven of the state’s 10 gubernatorial contests since 1984, and no Democrat has won since Bruce Sundlun in 1992, setting up a competitive fall contest.
Raimondo spent nearly $5 million to win the Democratic primary, shrinking her once-enormous campaign war chest to just $361,089 as of Sept. 1. She will need to ramp up her fundraising once again for the fall campaign. Fung had $129,276 on hand as of Sept. 1, but is set to get roughly $1 million in state matching funds, which Raimondo is not taking.
In a statement, outgoing Gov. Lincoln Chafee congratulated all the winners of Tuesday’s primaries, though he did not mention any of them by name. Chafee, who was elected as an independent but became a Democrat, is stepping aside after a single term during which he was dogged by low approval ratings.
“This primary season was particularly hard fought, and I want to congratulate the candidates for their hard work on the campaign trail,” he said. “I am supporting all of the Democratic Party’s nominees, and regardless of party affiliation, I look forward to working with the new General Officers on their transition following the November election.”
Organized labor was split in the Democratic primary, with public-sector unions divided between Taveras and Pell and many private-sector ones backing Raimondo. Robert Walsh, a vocal Pell supporter who is executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island teacher’s union, said he would talk with Raimondo and Fung about whom to support.
J. Michael Downey, president of AFSCME Council 94, the largest union representing state workers, issued a statement congratulating Raimondo on her victory and taking a subtle swipe at Pell’s supporters. “What is clear this evening is that working families have split their vote allowing the treasurer a path to victory,” Downey said. “The majority of Rhode Islanders have chosen another candidate and it’s clear this election is no endorsement of her policies.”
The general election is Nov. 4. Three others are also seeking the governor’s office in November: Moderate Party candidate James Spooner and independent candidates Kate Fletcher and Leon Kayarian.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Gina Raimondo’s campaign spent more than $5 million since the start of 2013; her campaign had spent just under that amount through Sept. 1.