PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has defeated his Republican challenger Steven Frias, according to unofficial results released Thursday by the R.I. Board of Elections.
The unofficial results gave Mattiello a slim lead of 65 votes, with 3,582 votes for him and 3,517 for Frias, or 49% to 48%. That was lower than Mattiello indicated when he first declared victory Tuesday night, having suggested then the final results would put him “up a minimum net of 300.”
The initial results Tuesday night showed Mattiello trailing Frias by 147 votes, but the numbers did not include hundreds of mail ballots that the speaker’s aides said they were confident would hand him a victory. The board finished counting the mail ballots Thursday.
After seeing the numbers, Frias did not concede. He reiterated that he is concerned about how the Mattiello campaign used mail ballots and said he still wants the board to investigate the issue. He also said he wants a recount. The board will meet again Wednesday.
“The fact that I’m this close to winning – and I probably would be winning if there weren’t some mail ballot issues – tells me that the people of my district wanted change,” Frias said.
Mattiello issued a brief statement after the results came in, saying: “I would like to thank the voters of District 15 in Cranston from the bottom of my heart.”
Later Thursday, Mattiello told reporters he was taken aback by the intense negativity of this year’s campaign season, from the presidential contest down to local races, and suggested that voters’ widespread disgruntlement was part of the explanation for his close finish.
“In this environment, it’s swimming against a tsunami,” Mattiello said, adding: “We’ll never see it again. … It was a nasty electoral process from the presidency on down. I’m just glad it’s behind us.”
However, he also said he respected Frias’s right to challenge the unofficial results. “I’m not concerned,” he said.
Mattiello quickly held a caucus of House Democrats on Thursday night in Cranston to choose a leadership team for the new legislative session that begins in January. He tapped Warwick Rep. Joe Shekarchi to replace defeated Providence Rep. John DeSimone as House majority leader.
The newly released unofficial results including mail ballots also showed incumbent Reps. Cale Keable, Robert Lancia and Deb Ruggiero winning their races, but Michael Marcello losing to Robert Quattrocchi. They also showed incumbent Sen. John Pagliarini losing his seat to Jim Seveney, in a rematch of their January special election race.
If all the results hold, Democrats will slightly strengthen their grip on both chambers of the General Assembly in January. The House will have 64 Democrats, 10 Republicans and one independent, a gain of two House seats for the Democrats. The Senate will have 33 Democrats and five Republicans, a gain of one Senate seat for the Democrats.
The results also showed Tiverton voters have approved letting Twin River build a new casino in their town, by a vote of 4,305 to 3,939.
The Board of Elections is expected to formally certify all the results next week.