Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: Oct. 25

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. Gina Raimondo wants to become Rhode Island’s first newly elected Democratic governor since 1990; Allan Fung wants to become its first newly elected Republican governor since 2002. Although Raimondo is trying to overcome a longer electoral drought, it’s Fung who looks like the underdog right now. Republicans have a legitimate gripe with the new Brown University poll – by making Providence voters 44% of the statewide sample, the results are heavily weighted toward an overwhelmingly Democratic urban area that only made up 10% of the 2010 electorate; still, Brown’s Shankar Prasad told me he didn’t think it impacted the results significantly. Either way, the fact remains that Fung has trailed in all four public polls taken since mid-September. Time is running short for him to close the gap – especially since the Democratic Party’s coordinated ground game could be worth at least a couple extra points for Raimondo come Election Day. Still, underdogs sometimes win: Fung needs undecided voters to break decisively in his favor over the next week and a half.

2. Here’s my dispatch from Hillary Clinton’s Friday campaign rally for Gina Raimondo, where her stemwinder sounded a lot like a stump speech by a presidential candidate – and didn’t include the rhetoric about cracking down on, ahem, Wall Street that was heard earlier in the day at Clinton’s rally with Martha Coakley.

3. Something to watch next week is whether the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations make further cash infusions into the race. The DGA has put in $250,000 so far for Raimondo, twice as much as the RGA’s contribution of $125,000 for Fung. But both groups are supplementing their own investments with money from other groups: the DGA has $100,000 from Women Vote, whose biggest funder is Emily’s List, while the RGA has $435,000 from the secretive Government Integrity Fund, an Ohio nonprofit that has yet to disclose its donors. That’s nearly $1 million to be spent over about two weeks. On top of that there’s the much-discussed pro-Raimondo super PAC American LeadHERship, which continues to spend money. Any of these groups – or new ones we haven’t even heard about yet – could all make their influence felt in the remaining days. (An ironic twist, considering local members’ antipathy toward Raimondo: the National Education Association teacher’s union gave $150,000 to the Women Vote group that’s attacking Fung.)

4. One reason we know who’s giving the money that pays for most of those groups’ campaign spending is the new disclosure law championed by Common Cause Rhode Island. Common Cause’s John Marion, who pushed hard for the change in the wake of the Citizens United decision, told me he’s pleased with the results so far: “Thanks to the disclosure law we are seeing information about the spending sooner (24 hours versus the old 7-day disclosure requirement), the ads have all contained information about the top donors on screen, and for the most part, the filings with the Board of Elections have shown who the donors are to the underlying groups.” A key test: will the aforementioned Government Integrity Fund file its required disclosure? There was no evidence it had done so as of Friday night, and when I called the number listed on the group’s IRS Form 990, whoever answered immediately hung up the phone on me. No one from the R.I. Board of Elections was available to discuss the issue midday Friday, either.

5. This wouldn’t be The Saturday Morning Post without a little policy to go with the politics, so let’s rewind to my first line of questioning in Tuesday night’s debate on WPRI 12, when both Gina Raimondo and Allan Fung made some interesting comments about the cornerstones of their economic plans. In Raimondo’s case, the discussion surrounded her proposed Rhode Island Innovation Institute, an idea for which she has high hopes but no price tag. Raimondo has frequently said the institute would have little cost to taxpayers, but during the debate she acknowledged reason to doubt that: firstly because she’s open to giving the institute some of the I-195 land for free, although the EDC is on the hook for $38.4 million in bonds used to take the land from the federal government; and secondly because one of her main inspirations, Cornell’s Roosevelt Island project, is costing New York taxpayers at least $100 million. In Fung’s case, the discussion surrounded his proposed $200 million in tax cuts – which no longer actually total $200 million due to recent changes made by the General Assembly, though he continues to use the $200 million number. Even if you knock the headline figure down to $150 million, the plan would balloon next year’s budget deficit to $323 million under current estimates – a huge gap to close.

6. Mark your calendars: the two leading candidates for lieutenant governor, Democrat Dan McKee and Republican Catherine Taylor, will debate Friday on a special edition of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. Tim White and yours truly will be asking the questions one last time – our 12th and final TV debate of this year! (If you just can’t wait to hear from McKee and Taylor, they debated on WPRO this week, too.)

7. Don’t look now, but the Brown poll suggests strong support for a constitutional convention, and the pro-con-con Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s survey put support even higher. Could there be another election surprisingly soon?

8. Here’s the new TV ad from the “Yes on 5” campaign. It starts airing Monday and, since this is Campaign 2014, the focus is naturally on jobs jobs jobs.

9. Here’s our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from our own Dan McGowan: “It was no surprise to hear Buddy Cianci’s campaign quickly dispute the findings of a pair of Brown University polls released this week showing Democrat Jorge Elorza pulling away from him in the race for Providence mayor. What remains to be seen is whether Cianci can beat back the perception that he’s got little ability to get past 40% of the vote in a race where he’ll likely need 47% to win. If, as the Taubman Center’s James Morone and WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming suggested, Brown’s surveys show Democrats are ‘coming home’ for Elorza, Cianci can probably forget about winning any last-minute endorsements from some of the remaining uncommitted Democrats in the city. In other words, Councilmen Luis Aponte, Wilbur Jennings, Carmen Castillo and David Salvatore, along with the hotel workers’ union Unite Here 217, aren’t likely to walk down the aisle for Cianci. (Unite Here says it could still back a candidate, but the clock is ticking.) For his part, Cianci maintains that his internal polls have always placed him in front of Elorza (although the campaign isn’t releasing its numbers). Is that possible? It’s hard to say. Some Cianci loyalists say they just don’t believe Elorza improved by 16 points from the WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll last month without very much paid media. Others say Team Cianci is relying on a heavier-than-expected turnout in Wards 6, 7 and 12 to go along with what they believe will be strong performances in Mount Pleasant, Elmhurst and the Charles neighborhood. Both camps say they believe the South Side is up for grabs and everyone agrees the East Side will strongly support Elorza. That’s where the Brown poll should be most concerning for Cianci. Morone actually under-sampled 02906, the East Side’s only zip code, which furthers the case that Elorza has a solid lead. One thing is certain: it’s going to be a wild final week.”

10. A story that got surprisingly little attention in Rhode Island this week: the Colorado Supreme Court just ruled that it’s constitutional to cut pensioners’ cost-of-living adjustments.

11. The Los Angeles Times looks at Sheldon WhitehouseJoe Manchin and climate change alliances.

12. The Republican caucus currently controls six of the Rhode Island Senate’s 38 seats (including independent Ed O’Neill). Before they can build on that number this November, they need to hold onto those six. Only one of their incumbents is unopposed – Dennis Algiere, the GOP leader – though O’Neill and Chris Ottiano are favored over their challengers, Keven McKenna and Taylor Dame. The other three races are where the caucus could have some trouble. Nick Kettle is facing an energetic opponent in Democrat Margaux Morisseau, who has passionate friends but powerful enemies thanks to her advocacy of caps on payday lending. The other two seats are being vacated by incumbents Dawson Hodgson and David Bates. While Republicans feel confident that their candidate to replace Hodgson, Mark Gee, can see off Democrat James Callaghan, there is more concern about the race to replace Bates, which pits former GOP Chairman Gio Cicione against Democrat Cindy Coyne. Senate Republicans could of course make up for the loss of one of their current seats if they pick up a new one elsewhere – but the possibility of a net loss can’t be ruled out.

13. Republican House candidate Matthew Guerra, who is running against Democratic Rep. Jay O’Grady, is coming under scrutiny for inappropriate text messages he allegedly sent a student.

14. If you read only one magazine profile about Nicki Minaj this weekend, make it this terrific GQ piece.

15. First-term Congressman Joe Kennedy III gets a nice write-up in this weekend’s FT from columnist Gillian Tett. Kennedy won his first race in 2012 with 61% of the vote; this year, in his first re-election bid, the 34-year-old Democrat is unopposed. (Doesn’t hurt that he’s stockpiled $1.5 million in his campaign war chest.)

16. Interesting story on how CVS is playing tough with its competitors to get more drugstore business.

17. Wonky but important: last year, after a lot of research, Dan McGowan published a big story on how Providence’s process for granting tax stabilizations was a mess. This week, after a review triggered by his story, a City Council report called for overhauling the system. Well done, Dan.

18. I had a great time Thursday night emceeing the 10th anniversary bash for the Providence After School Alliance, better-known as PASA, a terrific organization that has given hundreds of young city residents all sorts of things to do once the last classroom bell rings. To learn more about PASA, check out founder Hillary Salmons on Executive Suite last year.

19. What would you do with $300,000? The Rhode Island Foundation wants to know.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – an encore presentation of this week’s WPRI 12/Providence Journal gubernatorial debate between Gina Raimondo, Allan Fung and Bob Healey. Watch Sunday at 5 a.m. on WPRI 12. This week on Executive Suite – Robert Atkinson, former chief of the R.I. Economic Policy Council, and Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. 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

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