Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly column. As always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I may include them. Thanks for all the great feedback so far. Let’s jump in.
1. Barring a huge surprise, come November Rhode Islanders in the 1st Congressional District will vote overwhelmingly to re-elect President Obama. But if the election were held today, our WPRI 12 poll shows the same electorate would vote overwhelmingly to replace David Cicilline with Brendan Doherty in Congress. In a close election, the loss of RI-1 could potentially maintain GOP control of the U.S. House, which would do much to stymie the president’s second-term agenda. And that presents Obama voters in the 1st District with a dilemma: Booting Cicilline to punish him for his sins in Providence would feel good, but it might also diminish the effectiveness of the man they want running the country – without fixing anything in Providence. Angel Taveras basically made the same point on Thursday, endorsing Cicilline primarily to bolster Democrats’ numbers in Congress.
2. Another way to look at what Ian Donnis called “the Cicilline hot potato” is as a classic case of market failure. 1st District voters would prefer to elect a Democrat, but right now they’d prefer not to elect that Democrat. This suggests a straightforward solution: Give them a different Democrat. But if the party’s nomination is analogized to a product, Cicilline has a monopoly. That’s a credit to the congressman’s political savvy and deep roots in the party, but it’s not necessarily the best bet for keeping the seat in Democratic hands.
3. I could spend this whole column dissecting our poll and its fallout. Here’s another nugget: the generation gap. Among the most striking findings in the 1st District is the big split between voters over and under the age of 40. Doherty is at 53% among voters 40 and older, but among those 39 and younger he’s at just 34% – a difference of nearly 20 points. And it’s not because younger voters are on the fence: Cicilline is backed by 55% of young voters but less than 30% of older ones. My first guess is this may have something to do with the huge damage the Bush years did to the Republican brand among younger Americans. It’s also possible the under-40 set just isn’t as tuned into current events: a third of them had no opinion on Treasurer Raimondo‘s job performance despite last year’s pension debate.
4. While we were working on poll coverage, Tim White pointed out to me how lucky WPRI is to have the inestimable Joe Fleming as our pollster and political analyst. Joe is a generous guy and a pleasure to work with, but we don’t employ him for sentimental reasons – we employ him because he gets it right. “It’s as if the political junkies are salivating for his data,” notes Tim, who fielded umpteen calls and emails from pols and operatives once word got out that we had a new survey. “Joe is well-respected and knows how to make sure the sample is representative of the state, from gender, to political leanings, to region.” He’ll also go the extra mile – I still don’t understand how he managed to do a poll using the brand-new district maps approved less than a month ago. All that is why, as Tim puts it, “our poll had a seismic political effect that was felt down in D.C.”
5. We’re #1! Thank you to everyone who’s been reading WPRI.com in recent months, and tell your friends to join the many folks making the switch on TV, too.
6. It struck me last week why Tuesday’s official launch of the Projo’s paywall was rather anticlimactic. In most newspaper markets, Paywall Day is when regular digital readers suddenly can’t access the content they’ve been enjoying for years. But for The Journal’s online readers, that change really happened back in October when the new site debuted and most articles got locked down in the new electronic edition, even though the e-edition was free until this week. As Dave Scharfenberg astutely notes, the real test now is what happens to the paper’s tumbling circulation numbers post-paywall.
7. When I asked Treasurer Raimondo in January about why the pension fund earned only 1.4% in 2011, she said: “It’s really hard to manage money right now.” And while Rhode Island seems to be particularly bad at investing, it’s not hard to find others who agree with Raimondo and asset adviser Allan Emkin that it won’t be easy to earn an average annual return of 7.5% in the coming years. To understand why, read the long interview Jeremy Grantham gave to Barron’s last month. (Fun fact: In 2005, Grantham endowed The Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment awarded annually by the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute.)
8. Driving down I-195 the other night I saw a billboard for “Fixing America,” Steve Laffey’s new movie, which was scheduled to have its world premiere in Cranston last night. Oddly enough, the film’s tagline – “Together we can fix it” – reminded me of the slogan used by another insurgent candidate who ran in 2006: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a liberal Democrat whose “Together we can” ethos previewed the 2008 Obama campaign. Laffey and Patrick would probably want us to do different things together, though.
9. Dr. Seuss, who is surely most remembered for illustrating Narragansett Beer advertisements, would have turned 108 on Friday. To celebrate, you should read “Cat People,” Louis Menand’s brilliant, deadpan New Yorker essay on “The Cat in the Hat” published in 2002. “I understood,” Menand writes, what the book’s hectoring goldfish “was trying, with his limited vocabulary, to say, which is that ‘fun’ is only a distraction from the reality of separation and abandonment.” How ’bout that?
10. Few people are working crazier hours these days than Department of Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly and Division of Municipal Finance Director Susanne Greschner. They’re two unsung heroines of Rhode Island’s municipal finance crisis.
11. And speaking of the municipal finance crisis, that will be the subject du jour when the folks over at the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition hold their annual winter meeting next Saturday morning at the Radisson in Warwick. The keynote speaker is the eminently quotable Robert Flanders.
12. Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva Weed are good sports. It’s relatively easy to hide from the press in their positions – take some quick questions in a State House hallway, then make a break for it – but both of them have sat down for interviews on “Newsmakers” twice since last summer. For reasons both civic and selfish, I appreciate it. Of course, they’re both on my “Nice” list already this week thanks to the installation of Wi-Fi all over the State House.
13. This week on “Newsmakers” – Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed. Watch Sunday at 10 on Fox Providence. See you back here next Saturday morning.