Lincoln Chafee was a Republican as recently as 2007, then won the governor’s office in 2010 as an independent. But the new WPRI 12 poll shows he actually gets his strongest support from Democrats, 43% of whom rate Chafee’s job performance as excellent or good. That’s 14 points higher than his approval rating among all voters.
Chafee has downplayed suggestions he may join the Democratic Party ahead of the 2014 election, though he’s acknowledged it’s more difficult than he expected to govern without a party base. At the same time, Chafee is supporting Democrats up and down the ticket this fall and even spoke at the party’s national convention as a co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign.
By contrast, the two Democrats who get mentioned most frequently as the party’s top prospects for 2014 – Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras, tied as the most popular politicians in Rhode Island – actually do better among Republicans than members of their own party (though not by much). Raimondo’s approval rating is 65% among Republicans and 59% among Democrats. Taveras’s ratings are closer: 61% among Republicans and 59% among Democrats.
Indeed, it’s striking how close their approval ratings are throughout the poll of 501 likely voters – they’re exactly tied at 57.9% statewide and exactly tied at 59.3% among Democrats. Raimondo’s approval rating among union households is slightly higher than Taveras’s, but Taveras has a bit more room to grow since fewer voters have a negative opinion of him and more don’t know him at all.
That crossover appeal could be a boon to Raimondo and Taveras if they can maintain it going forward. Of course, only one of them can be the Democratic nominee in two years, which has the pair on a collision course. And they already have at least one other opponent: former Auditor General Ernie Almonte.
That means the real contest between Raimondo and Taveras could be the 2014 Democratic primary. She starts with a huge financial advantage, but Taveras may have the edge among the party’s three L’s: labor, Latinos and liberals.
Both pols played coy Tuesday when my WPRI 12 colleague Sean Daly asked if they’ll run.
“You know, someone asks me about it every day; a lot of people are encouraging me to do it,” Raimondo said. “It’s more than two years away and I have a lot of work to do as treasurer so that’s what I’m doing.”
“I didn’t hear a no,” Daly pointed out. “You didn’t hear a yes, you didn’t hear a no,” Raimondo replied, smiling. “You heard me say I’m working very hard for the people as treasurer.”
Taveras sounded a similar note: “I think the mistake that a lot of politicians make is they start looking too far ahead and lose focus on what’s in front of them, and I don’t want to make that mistake,” he said. “I need to focus on being mayor of the city.”
“I didn’t hear a no,” Daly said again. “I’m focused on being mayor,” Taveras replied – then grinned and laughed. Their allies are less circumspect, privately talking up each candidate’s potential.
None of this is to say Taveras, 42, or Raimondo, 41, is a sure thing in the 2014 primary, let alone in the general election against – potentially – Republican, Moderate and independent candidates.
Not only is the election two years away, but there are plenty of wild cards: Congressman Cicilline could lose to Brendan Doherty, creating an opening for one of them to challenge Doherty in 2014; Chafee could get a cabinet job from Obama, making Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts acting governor and likely a candidate in ’14; Senator Reed could retire or get a cabinet post (though this is far less likely than many think); Senator Whitehouse could get put on the Supreme Court.
All things considered, though, Raimondo and Taveras are well-positioned for the future.
• Related: New WPRI 12 Poll: Chafee rating 29%; Raimondo, Taveras 58% (Oct. 2)