Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: April 23

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

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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. Eight years ago Hillary Clinton won Rhode Island’s primary by 18 percentage points, but she’s facing much tougher odds in Tuesday’s contest against Bernie Sanders. In a bid to pull out all the stops, Clinton’s Brooklyn-based campaign team will soon announce that Bill Clinton is returning to Rhode Island for a second visit ahead of the primary. Hillary herself will be rallying at Central Falls High School later today, with Jack Reed and Gina Raimondo among those by her side, as the campaign pushes minority turnout in the urban core. But Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz has bad news for Clinton: his model makes Sanders the favorite to win Rhode Island. It projects Clinton will receive 43% of the vote, based on Rhode Island’s location and the size of its African-American and self-identified Democratic vote. Grassroots support is powering the Sanders campaign, and will likely be on display at his Sunday rally in Providence. But money is helping, too: he’s spent $600,000 on TV ads in Rhode Island so far, more than twice as much as Clinton. Back in 2008, Clinton beat Barack Obama partly by posting lopsided margins in vote-rich cities: Johnston (77%), North Providence (70%), Cranston (64%), Pawtucket (64%) and Warwick (62%). How will she do in those places this time? Will she flip Providence, which accounted for 1 in 7 votes in 2008 but went narrowly for Obama? Another question, as always: turnout. The 2008 Clinton-Obama primary was a record-setter, with 186,000 Democratic primary voters showing up, compared with 35,000 to 50,000 in most presidential years without an incumbent. This year seems unlikely to top that, but our political analyst Joe Fleming argues the higher turnout goes, the better it will be for Sanders. Considering the Vermont senator just got shellacked in New York and is expected to lose Tuesday’s other four primaries, winning Rhode Island could be a much-needed bright spot during a rough stretch. And if he does it will be quite a rebuke to the state’s Democratic establishment, which is united behind Clinton.

2. Gina Raimondo for VP? The Atlantic floated the idea this week.

3. With only three days left before the primary, and despite Joe Trillo’s fondest wishes, it’s looking less and less likely that a Donald Trump rally will actually happen in Rhode Island. And if you want to know why his increasingly professionalized team is making that call, just take a look at the Rhode Island GOP’s delegate rules. Unlike many states, Rhode Island offers winners little extra upside unless they reach 67%, a tall order in a three-man race even for Trump. With only 19 delegates at stake and the outcome appearing largely baked in, Trump’s team is likely prioritizing larger states with friendlier rules, like Connecticut and Pennsylvania. John Kasich obviously sees upside potential in Rhode Island, since he’ll be at Bryant this morning for a town hall (and then in Lincoln for a private fundraiser). The Ted Cruz campaign is keeping a low profile, and as Andrew Morse points out, that raises the risk Cruz could miss the 10% threshold required for him to win any Rhode Island delegates – which would be good news for Trump. (Cruz got 14.5% in New York – he’s lucky the Rhode Island GOP lowered its threshold from the 15% required in 2012.) Notably, as of Friday no Republican candidate or PAC had spent a dime on Rhode Island airwaves, whether to hold down Trump’s margins or boost Cruz above 10%. Recent GOP presidential primary turnout in Rhode Island has ranged from 13,000 (1996) to 36,000 (2000), and state-level GOP primaries have also stayed in that range with the exception of the 2006 ChafeeLaffey race (64,000) and the 1994 Almond-Machtley contest (45,000). What impact will Trump have on turnout? Keep an eye on Warwick, Cranston and North Kingstown, which together usually account for at least one in five GOP primary votes.

4. The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein argues presidential primaries that last into June could be the new normal. If so, that would be good news for Rhode Island and its new spot on the calendar in late April.

5. The fact Rhode Island only opens one in three polling places for presidential primaries is causing some alarm, but former Ralph Mollis spokesman Chris Barnett points out a similar move in 2008 caused few problems despite high turnout.

6. Last week’s column mentioned that a Clinton hasn’t lost an election in Rhode Island since 1992, when Massachusetts’ Paul Tsongas topped Bill in the Democratic primary. And who managed Tsongas’s victorious campaign? A 29-year-old by the name of Joe Shekarchi, better known today as a state rep, Raimondo ally, and champion fundraiser. Some things don’t change: at the time Scott MacKay wrote that Shekarchi was “known in Democratic political circles as an indefatigable campaign worker and consummate schmoozer who knows just about everybody who is anybody – or wants to be – in the Rhode Island Democratic Party.”

7. Brown University’s polling troubles continued this week when the school announced Thursday it would have to delay its pre-primary survey’s release, scheduled for that day, until noon Sunday due to “voter fatigue.” The school is promising head-to-head results for both primaries as well as approval ratings for Governor Raimondo and other officials. Problem is, Brown wants to get all that information out of a single 600-voter sample, which means the statewide numbers will not reflect all registered voters, but rather only those who say they vote in primaries. (Approval ratings are typically based on responses from all registered voters or all adults, not the significantly smaller primary electorate.) “You raise a really good point – and thank you for it – that likely primary voters are different than general election voters who are, in turn, different from the general population,” Brown polling chief Jim Morone told me in an email. “All three of those are interesting sets of people to know about and we’ll be careful to specify exactly what we’ve got and not generalize. We’ll make sure to get all three groups covered over the course of the next few polls.” The change of plans also drew criticism from Kasich campaign co-chair Gary Sasse, who called it “very disappointing” that Brown would release numbers less than 48 hours before voters go to the polls, particularly if it has methodological issues. Morone countered that Brown needed to wait until New York’s primary was over. “Polling always raises the tough question about affecting outcome,” he said. “But we doubt very much that in this unusual and fast moving campaign we’re going to influence Rhode Island voters.

8. “How Lin-Manuel Miranda taught liberals to love Alexander Hamilton.”

9. In the wake of the tourism debacle, we may be starting to see an effort by Governor Raimondo and her aides to refashion her image and try to counter accusations that she’s out of touch with average Rhode Islanders. “I am starting even more and more to be out and about listening,” Raimondo told WPRO’s Anita Baffoni this week. “It’s important for the people to see the governor. I want people to know they can talk to me and I’m going to listen and we are going to take their feedback. I think you can’t do enough of it and I want to start to do even more of it.” With the governor approaching the halfway mark of her term, it’s important for her team not to let negative impressions solidify.

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10. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “Angel Taveras’s testimony in the trial of the 68 retirees who opted out of the city’s 2013 pension/Medicare settlement was a fresh reminder of the dire financial situation the city found itself in just a few years ago; it also offered a clearer picture of the challenges Mayor Elorza is going to face as he tries to tries to address the city’s long-term money issues. While the changes Taveras made ranged from purely symbolic (cutting his own pay by 10%) to significant (altering retiree benefits) the former mayor made it clear that messaging – and his relationships at the State House – were always a major part of his strategy. Elorza appears to be taking a similar approach with his warning that Providence could run up a massive structural deficit if it doesn’t make more changes, but he hasn’t necessarily built the same bonds on Smith Hill. While there is no question severe cuts in state aid are among the major reasons Providence has a $13 million cumulative deficit, a common criticism from folks at the State House is, ‘If things are that bad, why didn’t they raise taxes last year?’ and ‘Didn’t they just reduce non-owner-occupied property rates?’ When it comes to trying to ask the colleges and hospitals for more money, the city is probably going to need General Assembly leadership in its corner for those conversations as well. Bottom line: Taveras had the ear of folks at the State House. Elorza is going to need to have the same presence.”

11. Speaking of WPRO, Dan McGowan reports the station has settled on a new lineup following Buddy Cianci’s death. Gene Valicenti and John DePetro will keep their current time slots at 6 and 9 a.m., while Matt Allen will be moving to noon and Dan Yorke will be sliding into the coveted drive-time slot at 3 p.m., with Tara Granahan taking over Allen’s old spot at 6 p.m. There are those who doubt the reach of talk radio, but Nielsen ratings show WPRO consistently pulling in around a 5.0, making it usually the #7 station in the market. (DePetro is said to have the top-rated show of the bunch.)

12. Also interesting in the radio ratings: Lite Rock 105 pulled a monster 18.6 during the holiday season, when it was playing Christmas songs 24/7. No wonder they start so early.

13. New York Times econ columnist Eduardo Porter used his piece this week to argue liberals may be hampering efforts to combat climate change by opposing nuclear power. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, however, isn’t among them. A hearing was held this week on his bipartisan Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, co-sponsored by the Senate’s leading climate skeptic, Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. But he faces skepticism on his own side: Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey warned at the hearing that the bill deals with “inherently dangerous technology that needs tough questions to be asked about it.”

14. Meanwhile, Senator Whitehouse’s advocacy for using the RICO Act to target companies over climate science once again has him in the cross-hairs of conservative media titans: this time it’s Washington Post eminence George F. Will in his weekend column.

15. Rick Brooks, who’s been heading up the Governor’s Workforce Board since 2011, is starting a new job at the Executive Office of Health & Human Services on Monday to boost coordination of training efforts for Rhode Island’s health care workers. “Governor Raimondo recognizes that healthcare and Medicaid reform intersects with economic development,” Medicaid director Anya Rader Wallack said in a statement. “To build on our progress and truly transform Medicaid and healthcare, we need to train, retrain and retain a skilled workforce that can help keep people healthy and in the community. Rick’s experience at DLT and working directly with community healthcare providers will be a valuable addition to our team.”

16. The R.I. Department of Health has formally begun its review of Care New England’s proposed cuts at Memorial Hospital. The department now has 90 days to complete its review.

17. Congratulations to the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, a public institution that’s celebrating its 125th anniversary next week.

18. Congratulations as well to historic All Saints’ Memorial Church on Westminster Street in Providence, which is holding a rededication ceremony on Sunday afternoon after a major renovation.

19. A great read from the archives: R. W. Apple Jr. on Providence in 1998.

20. Julie Tremaine argues Providence is about to be America’s next It City.

21. An amazing discovery: pristine Louis Armstrong recordings from the 1920s.

22. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable featuring Joe Fleming, Cara Cromwell and Lisa Pelosi. This week on Executive Suite – SeaScape Lawn Care President Jim Wilkinson; Sproutel co-founder and CEO Aaron Horowitz. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 8 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). Catch both shows back-to-back on your radio Sunday nights at 6 on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. And you can subscribe to both shows as iTunes podcasts – click here for Executive Suite and click here for Newsmakers. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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