Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: April 30

Quick hits on politics, money and more in Rhode Island

SIGN UP: Get Ted’s Saturday Morning Post by Email

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. The polls had barely closed Tuesday night before partisans began debating what message Rhode Islanders were sending by anointing Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump their favored presidential candidates. One thing’s for sure: outsiders are in. Whatever you want to call candidates like Hillary Clinton and John Kasich – establishment, status quo, cautious, centrist – most of the 183,000 Rhode Islanders who showed up Tuesday weren’t buying it. If their majority votes for radical change carry over to the primary and general elections later this year, incumbents could be in for a rough ride. But is the Sanders surge a sign voters want a leftward policy shift? Is the Trump-fueled jump in GOP turnout a sign of new strength for the state Republican Party? Is it about specific policy positions, or just change of any sort? It’s hard to know in this unpredictable year, especially without an exit poll. There was some overlap in the Sanders and Trump messages: they both emphasized that trade deals and offshoring have hollowed out Rhode Island’s job base, a potent argument in a place hurt second-most by the rise of China. Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration and Syrian refugees also seemed to resonate in a state where the population has gone from nearly all-white to one-quarter people of color since 1970. But beware reading too much into Tuesday; there’s risk in drawing sweeping lessons from an election that drew only 25% of voters to the polls, when history shows more than twice as many will turn out this November.

2. This tweet from the NYT’s Noam Scheiber succinctly sums up why Rhode Island voters can’t be blamed for being angry about the loss of local factory jobs:

3. Only a week ago, one of Rhode Island’s dumber political pundits confidently informed his readers that it was now “looking less and less likely that a Donald Trump rally will actually happen in Rhode Island.” That pundit would be me. In my defense – you knew there’d be one, right? – I was apparently correct that Trump’s campaign team saw no need to visit a state where he was already poised to win 60% of the vote. What I didn’t factor in was, well, the Trump factor. Here’s how he explained the decision-making while speaking at Monday’s Warwick rally: “I said, ‘I love Rhode Island – I’ve got to come up.’ So they said, ‘Well, we’re not scheduled.’ This was two days ago. I said, ‘What do you mean you’re not scheduled?’ ‘Well, it’s not that big a state.’ I said, ‘But it’s my people. These are my people!’ … I said, ‘I don’t care what our schedule is, I couldn’t care less – we’re going to Rhode Island.’ So they put it in.” And once again, Trump may outsmarted the political pros: if he’d received just a few fewer votes, Ted Cruz could have topped 10% in the 2nd Congressional District and grabbed a delegate that now goes to Trump. Instead, Trump won a smashing victory on near-record GOP turnout. “Been talking about RIGOP rebranding itself for years,” remarked Anchor Rising’s Marc Comtois. “Looks like it has now – the RI Trumpublican Party has been born.” The energy around Trump in Rhode Island has raised GOP hopes for General Assembly gains on a Trump-led ticket later this year, but that will require him to be more competitive than expected in blue states. A recent poll in Massachusetts, for example, showed him trailing Hillary Clinton 62% to 26%.

4. Donald Trump riled up the crowd in Warwick with an attack on Ted Cruz for failing to visit the state: “Now, Cruz was coming up,” he said. “You know what happened? Cruz was coming up, and he cancelled! Remember that: he cancelled! He was coming up two days ago – he cancelled his trip to Rhode Island! So I not only didn’t cancel, I said, ‘I don’t care what your schedule says.'” Only problem? There was never a Cruz visit to Rhode Island scheduled, according to GOP Chairman Brandon Bell, Republican National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick and Cruz campaign co-chair Gio Cicione. “Not true,” Cicione wrote on Twitter, adding: “Typical.”

5. In the end, Rhode Island’s Democratic presidential primary wasn’t even close: Hillary Clinton suffered a 12-point defeat at the hands of Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ optimistic progressive message – and his status as an anti-establishment alternative to Clinton – broke through with tens of thousands of voters in the only state where independents could cast a primary ballot Tuesday. So Sanders had the winds of public opinion at his back. But that wasn’t his only advantage. The Vermont senator’s campaign team invested far more than Clinton’s in traditional campaign methods such as TV advertising and paid mailers. His state director, Joe Caiazzo, had a head start in setting up field operations once he arrived thanks to months of grassroots organizing by local Sanders backers like Lauren Niedel. True, Clinton had endorsements from nearly all of Rhode Island’s Democratic leaders. But there’s no sign their political machines – if they even really exist – were put to work getting out the vote on her behalf. The trick for the state’s elated progressive activists will be converting votes for Sanders into votes for liberal challengers in September’s General Assembly primaries. The value of winning those races is obvious, since presidential turnout in November is likely to bolster most Democratic legislative candidates regardless of ideology.

6. Don’t miss my one-on-one sit-down interview with Bernie Sanders from Sunday.

7. Donald Trump’s best town this year? Johnston, where he won 78% of the vote. Hillary Clinton’s best town against Barack Obama in 2008? Johnston, where she won 75%. (This year, she lost Johnston to Bernie Sanders.)

SIGN UP: Get Ted’s Saturday Morning Post by Email

8. Rhode Island is #8 on this list of America’s most “normal” states.

9. They say April is the cruelest month, and it sure must feel that way to Governor Raimondo. It began with the “Cooler & Warmer” debacle; it ended with her failure to deliver Rhode Island for Hillary Clinton; in between there were news stories about her unpopularity, her income and Don Lally’s resignation. Now rumors are flying that Raimondo will soon make changes to her senior staff. “No one is safe,” she told me Thursday. “Everyone has to perform. That’s the way I think about it – if you perform, then you can stay. But look, people come in and out all the time, and I’m always looking to make sure I’ve got the best people in the best spots.” Tellingly, Raimondo’s initial answer to the question about staff changes was an energetic defense of Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor – even though I hadn’t asked about him. Her comments came after a Cumberland town hall event, the beginning of what looks like a coordinated Raimondo 2.0 effort to bolster her connection with regular voters. “I want to be the most accessible governor we’ve ever had,” Raimondo told me. “I also think right now, you know, people are worried about the economy, people are insecure in a lot of their jobs – it’s more important than ever to be out with people.”

10. Politically, Gina Raimondo may soon be in a similar position to where David Cicilline was in 2011. Cicilline won his most important victory of the election cycle that non-election year: he convinced credible potential opponents they shouldn’t jump into the Democratic primary to challenge him. That allowed him to avoid a costly interparty fight, other than a contest against Anthony Gemma, and to focus on his campaign against Republican Brendan Doherty. In a heavily Democratic state like Rhode Island, primaries can be more risky than generals, and Raimondo’s life will get harder if she doesn’t show enough strength in the coming year and a half to scare off challengers.

11. Vic Profughi’s brutal quote in Thursday’s Journal about the Brown University poll (“Their methodology is indescribably bad”) demonstrated just what a big hit the school’s reputation has taken due to its survey research in recent years. The bad publicity has got to be a concern for top Brown administrators, who are plowing more than $30 million into the polling unit’s parent organization, the Watson Institute, as part of Christina Paxson’s push to make Brown more of a player in public policy education. (Paxson herself previously ran one of the nation’s most respected schools of government, Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.)

12. Dan McGowan has three must-reads on Providence’s financial situation: 12 ways Providence could solve its money problems, a look at what Mayor Elorza needs to do to stabilize city finances, and a breakdown of the mayor’s newly introduced 2016-17 budget proposal.

13. An interesting idea from Twitter follower Christina after this week’s controversy over the closing of polling places: “[W]e should get called to serve at polling stations just as we get called for jury duty. No excuse not to have all poll stations open.” Common Cause Rhode Island is out with its own ideas for smoother elections, too.

14. Treasurer Magaziner made news on a number of fronts during his appearance on this weekend’s Newsmakers. Hot topics include his concern about the pension fund’s investment in Governor Raimondo’s old firm Point Judith Capital (“It hasn’t performed up to expectations”), his disappointment with the recent performance of the state’s controversial hedge fund portfolio, and next year’s potentially costly review of whether the fund should still expect to earn 7.5% annually over the long term.

15. SEIU officials think they’re making progress in their push to lock in a $15-an-hour minimum wage for workers who care for Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities or in nursing homes. They say a recent survey they commissioned showed 76% of residents in favor of the proposal, up from 60% in 2014 – which wouldn’t be a surprise, considering how well minimum wage increases usually poll.

16. Via Kathy Gregg, an interesting profile of Sheldon Whitehouse’s former top aide Mindy Myers.

17. Congratulations to Newport Daily News editor Sheila Mullowney, who left the newspaper Friday for a defense job. It’s a tough time to lead a print paper, and Mullowney has done a terrific job while also playing a prominent leadership role in Rhode Island’s journalism community. She’ll be missed.

18. The New York Times Magazine asks: “What Happened to Worcester?”

19. Sorry Baby Boomers: you’re now outnumbered.

20. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. This week on Executive Suite – CharterCARE CEO Les Schindel. 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

Comments are closed.