Dems may pick up seats in RI General Assembly

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump ran stronger in Rhode Island than any GOP nominee in years, but it doesn’t appear to have helped his party pick up many – if any – seats in the state legislature.

With a handful of races still too close to call as the R.I. Board of Elections continues counting mail ballots, Republicans were at risk of seeing their share of the General Assembly’s 113 seats fall from 18 to 13, depending on the outcome in those up-for-grabs districts.

The best-case scenario for Republicans – again based on preliminary results without mail ballots – appeared to be that they would maintain their current 18 seats in the House and Senate. But that will require the GOP to win all five races that remain too close to call, and they trail in three of them.

The GOP’s biggest target, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, claimed victory Tuesday night even though Election Day returns showed him trailing Republican challenger Steven Frias by 147 votes. Mattiello’s campaign said they were confident he would receive more than enough votes in the roughly 800 mail ballots that were requested in the district.

Other races that appeared too close to call:

• House District 16 in Cranston, where incumbent GOP Rep. Robert Lancia was up by just 14 votes over Democratic challenger Christopher Millea;

• House District 41 in Scituate, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Michael Marcello was trailing Republican challenger Robert Quattrocchi by 237 votes;

• House District 47 in Burrillville, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Cale Keable, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led Republican challenger David Place by 60 votes;

• House District 74 in Jamestown, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Deb Ruggiero led Republican challenger Rebecca Schiff by 43 votes;

• and Senate District 11 in Portsmouth, where Democratic challenger Jim Seveney led incumbent Republican Sen. John Pagliarini by 233 votes.

While it’s possible mail ballots could produce a major swing in other races as well, it appears unlikely.

If that’s the case, the new House in January will include at least 62 Democrats, eight Republicans and one independent; the Senate will be at least 32 Democrats and five Republicans. The Senate, in particular, will look almost identical to the current one. It was generally a strong night for incumbent legislators seeking re-election.

Democrats picked up two of the four seats being vacated by retiring Republican lawmakers, with Democrat Evan Shanley winning GOP Rep. Joe Trillo’s District 24 seat in Warwick and Democrat Julie Casimiro winning GOP Rep. Doreen Costa’s District 31 seat in North Kingstown. There were no clear Republican pickups in the House as of Tuesday night, so their hopes rested on the up-for-grabs districts.

On the Senate side, Republican Thomas Paolino held the District 17 seat being vacated by Republican-aligned independent Ed O’Neill.

Two Democratic representatives who lost their September primaries and ran long-shot write-in campaigns on Tuesday – House Majority Leader John DeSimone of Providence and Rep. Jan Malik of Warren – fell far short in their efforts.

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