Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Oct. 18

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. I never doubted you, Danny Amendola, I swear!

2. The big question in the wake of the new WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll is whether Gina Raimondo’s 42% represents a floor of support or a ceiling. Three public polls in a row since late September have each shown her with 41% to 42% of the vote. That’s not enough to win, but it may not be far off either if Bob Healey remains a significant factor. One reason for optimism in the Raimondo campaign is that she’s still got the lead despite a rough month following the Sept. 9 primary: Allan Fung outspent her on the air with a tough attack ad on 38 Studios, while her comments about abortion sparked controversy. Fung wasn’t able to use those developments to seize the lead, though he is in striking distance. Healey appears to be a problem for the Republican because he offers another option for anti-Raimondo votes; he’s polling above 10% with men and union households, two groups that are otherwise breaking in Fung’s favor. Yet Fung has reason to be hopeful, too: he is viewed significantly more favorably than Raimondo among the 12% of voters who remain undecided, suggesting many are primed to break his way. A high favorable rating isn’t necessarily the key to victory – Angel Taveras showed that in the primary – but it’s certainly a positive. If the race tightens between now and Nov. 4, the two sides’ ground games could be decisive.

3. With less than three weeks to go before the election, Raimondo, Fung and Healey will finally take the stage side-by-side for their first televised debate Tuesday night on WPRI 12. Raimondo and Fung have both gotten plenty of debate practice this year, but not with the smart and unpredictable Healey sharing the stage. After that they’ll only have three more joint appearances – two TV debates and a Chamber forum. Like it or not, that will make the air war all the more important. Raimondo’s campaign account had significantly less money than Fung’s going into October, but that doesn’t tell the whole story – the pro-Raimondo American LeadHERship super PAC just deposited a six-figure check from Texas billionaire John Arnold to keep airing its anti-Fung ad, and Mike Bloomberg’s PAC has also said it will buy TV time to help Raimondo. She’ll also get a boost when Hillary Clinton visits Providence on Friday to campaign for her. Fung has already gotten visits from Chris Christie and Mitt Romney, but he could use a significant investment on his behalf by the Republican Governors Association or a GOP-aligned super PAC – or, better yet, both – to avoid getting outspent in the weeks to come. Polls such as this week’s could help him, by getting outsiders to view the race as winnable.

4. Allan Fung has been attacking Gina Raimondo consistently over the 38 Studios bonds and hedge-fund fees. Raimondo and her Rhode Island Democratic Party allies have been attacking him on economic policy, most recently his opposition to a near-term hike in the minimum wage. Which issues will resonate with voters?

5. Mark your calendars – as mentioned above, WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal will host a televised gubernatorial debate live from the Providence Performing Arts Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m. featuring Gina Raimondo, Allan Fung and Bob Healey. As always, Tim White will be moderating with The Journal’s Ed Fitzpatrick and yours truly also asking questions.

6. The poll results for the down-ballot races – lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, general treasurer – have to be at least somewhat frustrating for Rhode Island Republicans. On the one hand, the poll shows just 24% of voters think the state is heading in the right direction; on the other hand, those same voters are currently putting Democrats on top in all five statewide races. There are a variety of reasons for that: Rhode Islanders generally lean Democratic, only one of the Democrats is an incumbent, and, as Joe Fleming noted, the Democratic nominees boosted their name recognition during competitive primaries over the summer. But even in the case of Peter Kilmartin, an incumbent attorney general who’s been knocked around over 38 Studios, Dawson Hodgson is down by double-digits. There is still a path for the GOP candidates, but they have to run extremely good campaigns over the next two-and-a-half weeks to close the gap, and even then it might not be enough.

7. The fraught relationship between organized labor and the top of this year’s Democratic ticket is strange enough to have attracted national attention this week from Vox’s Dylan Matthews, who noted Allan Fung’s double-digit lead over Gina Raimondo among union voters as well as widespread union backing for Catherine Taylor over Dan McKee. It’s a reminder of just how unusual it is for a Democratic ticket to be topped by candidates most famous for advocating pension reductions and charter schools. One interesting wrinkle is the different ways unions are playing the two races. In the lieutenant governor’s race, there’s no divide – not a single labor group is backing McKee so far. In the governor’s race, however, the AFL-CIO’s George Nee and NEARI’s Bob Walsh are making a clear effort to boost Raimondo, urging union voters not to vote for Fung regardless of how they feel about her. It will be interesting to see how their members react.

8. The general treasurer’s race is once again getting more heated than most of the other contests on the ballot. Ernie Almonte’s campaign – trailing 47%-34% in the WPRI 12/Journal poll – has had two pillars since the primary ended, a positive TV ad campaign and an ongoing focus on Seth Magaziner’s finances. In press release after press release, Almonte’s campaign has questioned the provenance of the roughly $550,000 Magaziner loaned his campaign in August. Magaziner’s campaign struck back Friday with a negative TV ad and 14-page dossier [pdf] that criticizes Almonte on his work as the state’s auditor general. Late Friday, Almonte’s campaign returned fire with a new negative ad of its own, criticizing Magaziner as a “partisan politician.” Notably absent from the thrust and parry: any major policy differences relating to the work the treasurer’s office does.

9. The “Yes on 5” campaign, pushing for passage of the $35-million arts bond, says it will take to the airwaves next week with a radio ad and then TV spots. The Rhode Island Coalition for Arts and Preservation, an umbrella group largely funded by the organizations who have earmarks in the bond, had spent $89,000 as of Tuesday. If you missed it, here’s my story on the cost of the four bond referendums.

10. Tim White unearths new details about what exactly Mike Corso was doing for 38 Studios.

11. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “With less than three weeks to go before Election Day, there is only thing we can be sure of when it comes to the race for Providence mayor. Republican Daniel Harrop will not be Angel Taveras’ successor in City Hall. What we aren’t sure of is what his presence in the race means for Democrat Jorge Elorza and independent Buddy Cianci. And we still aren’t completely sure Harrop won’t endorse Elorza at the last minute – his name will remain on the ballot no matter what – in a last-ditch effort to block Cianci from winning the race. When Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White pressed Harrop on whether he intends to remain in the race at a forum Wednesday morning, he repeated his go-to line about having secured media buys – although he’s only spent about $19,000 to date – through Nov. 4. But a day earlier, he praised three former U.S. attorneys – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, former Republican Gov. Lincoln Almond and Robert Correntefor rallying together against Cianci. ‘I appreciate the bipartisan effort and I think that may be a model on how the last three weeks of this mayoral election should go,’ Harrop said during a separate forum. Harrop, who regularly draws praise from both Republicans and Democrats for his performances during debates, has functioned as an attack dog on Cianci in recent weeks while rarely criticizing Elorza except to question whether the Democrat can afford some of his proposals. What also remains unclear is whether a formal or informal endorsement for Elorza would actually matter to the roughly 3,000 voters who will likely vote Republican on Nov. 4. The more conservative GOP members – folks who probably already don’t trust Harrop for his position on in-state tuition for undocumented residents – could flock to Cianci. But if Harrop can be convinced more of his supporters will cast a vote for Elorza than Cianci, an endorsement wouldn’t be stunning. For all the questions surrounding this race, the Harrop factor is one of the most fascinating.”

12. The Buddy Cianci roadshow continues: he’s set to appear on “Meet the Press” Sunday morning. No word on when Jorge Elorza and Dan Harrop will be on.

13. David Cicilline went up with the first TV spot for his re-election campaign this week; challenger Cormick Lynch issued a press release Friday calling for a travel ban between the U.S. and West Africa due to Ebola. It’s good to be the incumbent: the latest campaign-finance reports show Cicilline had $553,335 on hand, while Lynch had just $7,095. … Jack Reed has spent $327,800 on TV ads so far, while Mark Zaccaria isn’t up; they have $3.1 million and $4,341 on hand, respectively. … Jim Langevin’s campaign blog hasn’t been updated since September 2012, a reminder of how quiet his re-election campaign against Rhue Reis has been so far. Langevin, unlike his colleagues, has yet to purchase TV time; he has $509,594 on hand, while Reis has $2,697. … Put it all together, and the Democratic congressional incumbents have more than $4 million on hand, while their GOP challengers have $14,133.

14. Passenger traffic at T.F. Green continues to slide, down 6% in September compared with last year. Don’t miss Patrick Anderson’s PBN piece on the growing concerns about Green.

15. Congratulations to Marisa Quinn, Brown University’s well-respected vice president of public affairs and university relations, on her new gig as the Watson Institute’s director of communications and outreach. If you haven’t heard, Brown is merging Watson with its Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions to create one central research hub on politics and public affairs, and the university is hoping the new entity will raise its profile in Rhode Island. A first step in that process is the launch of Brown’s newly overhauled polling operation, which should be releasing its first Rhode Island election survey any day now.

16. For all the hype about Rhode Island becoming a hub of brain science, the state was conspicuously absent from the list of 58 projects that recently received some of the $46 million doled out by President Obama’s new brain research initiative.

17. A new Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity scorecard of state lawmakers is out, and perhaps unsurprisingly considering the state’s political tilt, the center didn’t find much to like on Smith Hill. One interesting nugget from the report – the scorecard is based on 90 Senate votes and 75 House votes, but three lawmakers missed a large number of them: Frank Ciccone (65), Gordon Fox (51) and William San Bento (64). That’s not so surprising in the cases of San Bento, who’s been in ill health, or Fox, who had a rather eventful spring, but Ciccone is an influential senator who just fought off a tough Democratic primary challenge. (Fun fact: Ciccone is also supporting Buddy Cianci for mayor over fellow Democrat Jorge Elorza.)

18. Should Rhode Island governments offer pension buybacks to reduce their liabilities?

19. And speaking of pensions, the FT’s Miles Johnson offered a warning in a piece this week: “Do not shop in the bargain aisle for hedge funds.” Johnson’s basic point, worth pondering in Rhode Island, is that politicians under pressure to reduce fees but still wanting to put pension assets in hedge funds are likely to look for lower-cost options, but in doing so could wind up getting even less value for money. They should only invest with the best, he argues, continuing: “And if the best are closed to new investment they must find something else to do with their money. Simply put: if you are going to book a caterer, or a hedge fund, make sure it is a good one. If they are not, it is better to not bother at all.”

20. Which General Assembly races should we all be watching in these last two weeks?

21. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable on the new WPRI 12/Journal poll, featuring Joe FlemingEd FitzpatrickCara Cromwell and yours truly. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive SuitePhilip Eil, news editor of the Providence Phoenix, and the paper’s farewell. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Comments are closed.