Clinton swings through RI to boost Raimondo bid

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Jack Reed and Gina Raimondo at a campaign rally in Providence on Oct. 24, 2014.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a full-throated endorsement to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gina Raimondo on Friday, using a campaign rally to tie Raimondo’s themes to those Clinton may run on in a 2016 presidential bid.

“I’m pretty excited about Gina becoming governor,” Clinton told a cheering crowd as Raimondo stood beaming behind her. “I really think that Rhode Island would be so well-served by having this extraordinary woman take responsibility for your state. She knows how to get results by finding common ground, but she sure knows how to stand her ground when necessary.”

Raimondo described herself as “bursting with pride” to welcome Clinton, describing the former first lady as “my idol.”

“Gina has a plan,” Clinton said. “It’s a well-thought-out plan – it’s rooted in facts, not ideology, it’s based on evidence, not rhetoric – to put people back to work, and she knows how to do it. She has the experience. … She has the smarts to get it done.”

Clinton’s comments didn’t touch on Wall Street or big banks, which were key themes at a rally she attended earlier in the day for Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial nominee Martha Coakley; Raimondo’s opponents have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars since last year criticizing her as too close to the financial sector.

“It’s great to be back in Rhode Island,” Clinton, who easily defeated Barack Obama in the state’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary, said at one point. “I really do love coming here. Rhode Island has been good to me and to my husband over the years, and you’ve stood with me.”

The Raimondo campaign estimated more than 1,100 people attended the rally, which was held in the recreation center at Rhode Island College in Providence, and was preceded by a high-dollar meet-and-greet that raised money which Raimondo’s campaign badly needs after spending nearly $5 million to win the Democratic primary last month.

Mitt Romney endorses Allan Fung at the Providence Biltmore in October 2014. (photo: WPRI 12/Sean Daly)
Mitt Romney endorses Allan Fung at the Providence Biltmore in October 2014. (photo: WPRI 12/Sean Daly)

Raimondo’s Republican opponent, Allan Fung, dismissed the Clinton rally as something that isn’t a big deal to most voters. He spent the morning visiting Brutopia, a brewery and restaurant in Cranston that he said demonstrated how his stewardship of that city has prepared him to improve the state’s economy.

“I’m sitting here talking to the people of Rhode Island,” Fung said. “Endorsements and people coming in are fantastic to have to energize people, energize the base, but what I hear about every single day is the fact that people are hurting. They’re not worried about who’s coming in, they’re worried about how to pay for their gasoline, how to put food on the table, how to pay for their mortgage.”

Fung has had two high-profile visitors campaign for him in recent weeks: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. Christie made a swing through a restaurant in Johnston while Romney headlined a closed fundraiser and then held a press conference, though neither man held a public rally for the GOP nominee.

A WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll earlier this month showed Raimondo with a 6-point lead over Fung, and a Brown University survey released Thursday also showed the Democrat ahead. Moderate Party nominee Robert Healey attracted 8% to 9% of the vote in the two polls.

The Clinton rally came the same day another famous Democrat announced plans to visit Rhode Island: the White House said President Obama, who canceled a planned trip earlier in the month due to the Ebola crisis, has rescheduled to speak at Rhode Island College next Friday.

Clinton’s Friday stump speech focused on core Democratic themes – raising pay for women, increasing the minimum wage, bashing Republican tax policy – that have become familiar in recent weeks as she goes around the country campaigning in advance of the Nov. 4 midterms and, potentially, setting the stage for another presidential run. She said Raimondo and other Democrats want to “create a 21st-century economy that will work for everybody,” and that they will “create construction jobs right away and lay the foundation for long-term growth.”

At the same time, Clinton went out of her way to adapt her comments to Raimondo, saying she was told long ago to keep an eye on the future treasurer. “And so I have been,” Clinton said. “And I like what I see.” She tacitly defended Raimondo’s decision to push through the 2011 state pension overhaul, saying it represented one “of the hardest choices any public official in America [has] made.”

Raimondo drew one of the loudest cheers of the afternoon when she ticked off Clinton’s previous jobs as first lady, secretary of state, and U.S. senator, then hinted at a future presidential bid: “She’s done it all – although not everything yet!” Clinton shrugged but, unsurprisingly, gave no specific indication of her plans.

Raimondo used her own turn at the podium to reiterate her criticism of Fung over his support for a right-to-work law and tax cuts she said would increase the state’s budget deficit, as well as his opposition to an increase in the minimum wage. (Fung has said he is not looking to implement a right-to-work law in the short term and might be open to an eventual minimum-wage hike.) Clinton suggested “there’s not really a choice” between Raimondo and Fung when it comes to their plans.

“You can’t take anything for granted in an election, and I have some experience with that,” Clinton told the crowd toward the end of the rally. “You have one of the best choices in the entire country with Gina.”

Raimondo used some of her sharpest attack lines on Fung yet during the rally, saying he’s “running to make Rhode Island an anti-worker, right-to-work state” and describing him as “a classic insider,” and “a former corporate lobbyist.” That followed criticism earlier in the day from the Fung campaign over Raimondo’s efforts to play up jobs created at Narragansett Beer, which was backed by her former-venture capital company, that are mostly in New York.

Clinton knocked Republicans, too, alleging their 2014 campaigns are ignoring the policies of previous GOP elected leaders. “The other side is engaging in a massive effort to induce amnesia,” Clinton declared. In another possible hint that she may run again, Clinton said becoming a grandmother recently has made her think harder about what American will be like a quarter-century from now.

Clinton and Raimondo were introduced by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who holds a wide lead in his bid for re-election against Republican Mark Zaccaria this year. Speaking before the trio came on stage was Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council union, whose cousin, Armand Sabitoni, is secretary-treasurer of the Laborers’ International Union and a longtime Raimondo ally.

Clinton made sure to give a shoutout from the stage to Seth Magaziner, the 31-year-old Democratic nominee for treasurer who is locked in a competitive race with independent Ernie Almonte. The Clintons have long been close to Ira Magaziner, the nominee’s father, who lives in Bristol, and his wife.

“I have known Seth since he was born, and as The Providence Journal recently put it, if Rhode Islanders want bright, energetic, honest leadership – Seth is your man,” Clinton said.

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

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