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1. Governor Raimondo’s re-election campaign is sitting on $3.3 million – and the way the race is shaping up, she may need every penny. This week’s WPRI 12/Roger Williams University survey puts the first-term Democrat in dangerous territory, polling under 40% and just two points ahead of her nearest rival, Republican Allan Fung. As analysts noted, her problems include middling support from Democrats (63%) and weak numbers among independents (29%), as well as voters’ negative take on the state’s direction. Silver linings for the incumbent: she’s still ahead, though only slightly and within the margin of error, and her 50% favorable rating indicates room to grow. If Fung is the nominee, his campaign has work to do, too – the Republican candidate only received about one-third of the vote for governor in the last two elections, and that’s where Fung’s support sits now. (Patricia Morgan is further behind, while Giovanni Feroce filed after the poll was finalized.) The Raimondo campaign’s week got a lot worse Tuesday night, however, when former Democratic Secretary of State Matt Brown emerged from out of nowhere and filed to run as an independent. Brown’s platform could have significant appeal for progressives, siphoning off voters Raimondo needs to win and offsetting the drain Republicans face from conservative independent Joe Trillo. There’s a long way to go before November, but this was a week that left Republicans more bullish and Raimondo backers more nervous.
2. For what it’s worth, both Gina Raimondo and Allan Fung are viewed less favorably today than they were in our final WPRI 12 poll of the 2014 campaign. Raimondo’s rating then was 58% favorable and 31% unfavorable; it’s 50% favorable and 46% unfavorable now. Fung’s rating was 64% favorable and 20% unfavorable then; it’s 49% favorable and 26% unfavorable now. One key difference: Raimondo has almost universal name recognition today, but one in four voters have no opinion of Fung. (Another distinction: the 2014 poll was limited to likely voters, while this poll was all registered voters.)
3. Before Matt Brown’s shock announcement, Lincoln Chafee was seen as perhaps the biggest known unknown in the race for governor. Would he challenge Gina Raimondo in the Democratic primary, or stay in retirement? Reached Tuesday night, Chafee told me he had no advance knowledge of Brown’s plans and hadn’t really thought about Brown since Brown’s aborted run against him for U.S. Senate in 2006. As for his own plans, Chafee said he’s still thinking it over but expects to make a decision by late May. “I think the poll shows that it’s important to have a good candidate,” Chafee said. “We don’t want President Trump saying, ‘Look, I can even get a Republican elected in Rhode Island.’ And so for the Democrats, we’ve got to make sure we get a good candidate. And if Governor Raimondo’s the one that polls the best, then that’s who we go with.” Chafee can be inscrutable, but he sounded as though he has at least some reservations about plunging back into the gubernatorial fray. “It’s a hard job, Ted,” he said. “It’s a hard job.”
4. Patricia Morgan remains an unknown to two-thirds of Rhode Island voters, but her first challenge is to convince the Republican primary electorate to choose her over Allan Fung or Giovanni Feroce in September. Morgan has been stepping up her criticism of Fung, the clear frontrunner, in an effort to chip away at his support. Her campaign this week released the first in what it says will be a series of “Fung Facts” news releases highlighting the Cranston mayor’s past positions. (Democratic operative Peter Baptista, who used “Fung Facts” in the 2014 campaign, apparently doesn’t have a copyright.) Her first example: Fung’s sponsorship of a 2005 City Council resolution asking lawmakers to let cities install red-light camera systems; the law passed that year. Morgan’s spokeswoman suggested the vote is an example of Fung’s “liberal, tax and spending ways.” Fung campaign manager Andrew Vargas Vila’s response: “There are no red light or speed cameras in Cranston. If I were trailing the governor by 18 points, I wouldn’t be wasting my time talking about a meaningless resolution from 13 years ago.”
5. Sheldon Whitehouse is in better shape than Gina Raimondo heading into November, but he still can’t take his re-election for granted against either Bobby Nardolillo or Bob Flanders. The WPRI 12/RWU poll shows 46% of voters rate Whitehouse’s job performance as excellent or good, while 27% rate it poor and the rest say “fair.” (Raimondo is at 37% excellent/good versus 31% poor.) Whitehouse won a landslide victory in his first re-election race in 2012, taking almost two-thirds of the vote. That year he was helped by Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket (though Whitehouse’s aides like to point out that he actually slightly outperformed the president). This time, Whitehouse will have to win without a presidential-year turnout boost.
6. Elections are often won or lost based on who has a better voter turnout operation. The Raimondo re-election campaign is entrusting that task to Jenn Thomas, its recently hired field director. Thomas, a Brown grad, was previously data and organizing director for the state Democratic Party in Connecticut, where Raimondo campaign manager Jonathan Blair piloted Gov. Dan Malloy’s successful 2014 re-election bid. Thomas “is planning a robust, Obama-style field program that engages with Rhode Islanders of all backgrounds, in every community,” Raimondo spokesman David Ortiz reports. Notable: the governor’s campaign is building its turnout machine in partnership with Senator Whitehouse’s. “Team Gina and Team Sheldon are hosting local organizing meetings throughout Rhode Island to help you get involved in the 2018 election, to elect Democrats up and down the ballot,” Raimondo’s campaign said in an email to supporters this week.
7. On the issues: 85% of Rhode Island voters say sexual harassment is a serious problem, 75% favor the DACA immigration program, and 60% support enacting a state law that would make it illegal to sell or possess semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15. On guns, though, the poll findings don’t show the intensity gap – as suggested when gun-rights supporters vastly outnumbered gun-control advocates at this week’s State House hearings on the issue.
8. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “The fallout from Providence’s new speed camera program has led to several social media posts and emails asking a similar question: how would Buddy Cianci handle the cameras if he were mayor? We’ll never know for sure, but history suggests he probably would have held a press conference in front of a school and declared that he intends to end speeding once and for all. And then when the General Assembly came along to threaten the program it created (and the millions of dollars in potential city revenue that comes with it), he’d have lined up all of Providence’s state representatives and senators to fight any possible changes to the law. Supporters of Mayor Elorza would say it’s a positive thing that Elorza shares very little in common with Cianci, but one thing they wish the mayor had more of is political capital at the State House. Elorza has never been beloved by General Assembly insiders, but for his first two years in office, he had Majority Leader John DeSimone and Rep. John Carnevale to help carry his water on the House side. They’re both gone now, as are several House staffers who have always at least attempted to protect Providence’s interests. Now it appears the House is moving quickly to make changes to the law without giving much consideration to the fact that 17,000 drivers have been caught going at least 11 miles per hour over the speed limit since Jan. 16 or that the city is locked into a contract with the private vendor that oversees its cameras. City Council leaders are hopeful their decision to review the program might convince the House to put the brakes on any changes, and it’s still possible the Senate might not support whatever the House puts forward. But clout matters at the State House. And if the city can’t save a speed camera program, what makes anyone think it can convince lawmakers to allow the sale or lease of the water supply?”
9. Susan Campbell continues her watchdog reporting on UHIP.
10. Eagle-eyed reader and amateur historian Steve Frias correctly spotted an error in last week’s column. Using information from the state library, I reported that Pawtucket had not had a Republican lawmaker in the General Assembly since 1931. But it turns out the library thought my question was when Pawtucket last had a Republican lawmaker in both chambers at once. Former GOP Rep. Bill McManus represented Pawtucket in the House from 2003 to 2008 out of House District 46, which is now Democrat Jay O’Grady’s seat. (That district is more Lincoln than Pawtucket, though.)
11. Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin joined Twitter on Feb. 18, and he’s taken to the service quickly, posting 52 tweets in about three weeks. His subjects range from Lent and papal proclamations to the NRA, tech anxiety and Providence’s speed cameras.
12. Two on health care – Blue Cross turned a $22 million profit in 2017, and a pair of key lawmakers are taking aim the Care New England-Partners merger.
14. Brookings on how to improve economic-development incentives.
15. Two of President Tyler’s grandsons are still alive, 174 years later.
16. What you know about Kitty Genovese’s murder is probably wrong.
17. Are you 21 to 37? Then Pew says you count as a Millennial.
18. Mark Oppenheimer on the death of civility in the digital age.
19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable breaks down the new WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll. This week on Executive Suite – Gilbane Building Co. President and CEO Michael McKelvy. 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 Sundays at 6 p.m. 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.