5 takeaways from Tuesday night’s Democratic RI gov. debate

Raimondo Taveras Pell June 2014 debateThe top three Democratic candidates for governor – Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell – met Tuesday night for their first TV debate of the primary campaign. For a full recap of what they said, check out Dan McGowan’s full story on WPRI.com. The full video of the entire 60-minute debate is online here.

Here are five quick takeaways from this first primary debate of the season.

1. Nobody bombed. Supporters of the three candidates will point to the best moments each of them had and the occasional stumbles of their rivals, but the truth is there didn’t appear to be any really bad moments that will become a major post-debate headache for their campaigns. Particularly in the first debate, when the candidates are still trying to get their sea legs, they likely have the Hippocratic oath in mind: “First, do no harm.” As WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming put it, “I would say they all held their own tonight. But nobody had a knock-out punch.”

2. Clay Pell threw some punches. The 32-year-old political newcomer, far behind in the polls after months of bad press over his missing car, needs to change the dynamic in the race. Tonight was his first big chance to do that, and he did his best to make an impression – partly by raising questions about his rivals. He dismissed Raimondo and Taveras as “two elected officials,” while saying of himself, “I am not a politician.” He argued Raimondo’s pension efforts can’t be called a success as long as litigation continues, and he slammed Taveras for saying a $10.10 minimum wage shouldn’t be phased in until 2018. One question: how did his aggressiveness play in voters’ living rooms?

3. They agree on almost everything. Except, obviously, who should be elected governor. They agree on raising the minimum wage, spending more on infrastructure, promoting tourism, paying the 38 Studios bonds, not holding a constitutional convention, legalizing marijuana, keeping abortion legal, and even making calamari the state appetizer. As RIPR’s Scott MacKay pointed out, “the policy and political differences were mostly those of insider issue nuance.” Pell and Raimondo said they’ll order an independent, RISDIC-style commission to probe 38 Studios if elected; Taveras said he’ll do so if other avenues don’t provide enough answers. Pell was also the lone candidate to come out against the House budget’s estate-tax cut and to support the pending bill that limits teacher evaluations. Overall, though, tonight’s debate made the contest seem to be mostly about biographies and leadership styles.

4. Raimondo is already under fire. The treasurer wasn’t the frontrunner in the most recent WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll, but you might have thought otherwise based on this evening’s debate. Though she kept her cool, Raimondo found herself on the defensive over her handling of the 2011 pension law and her campaign contributions from the financial sector. Taveras, by contrast, took little targeted fire from Pell or Raimondo, and both the mayor and the treasurer seemed mostly intent on ignoring their younger opponent. One reason for that: Raimondo’s biggest accomplishment as treasurer, the pension law, is also an issue that angers some voters Taveras and Pell are trying to woo. Also, they’re aware of the benefits she will have down the stretch from her huge campaign war chest.

5. Taveras is stuck in the middle. Before Pell entered the race, it seemed like Taveras could win the primary just by painting himself as a friendlier version of Raimondo – a good steward of public finances, but one who doesn’t make people angry. Pell’s entry, however, is presenting a challenge to Taveras from the left – in two of the rare examples of policy differences tonight, the mayor and the treasurer were joined together in support of the estate-tax cut and in opposition to delaying teacher evaluations. The mayor’s responses to two questions – on investigating 38 Studios and the estate tax – showed how his penchant for honesty can lead to lengthy answers that lack punch. Regardless, Pell’s emphatic statement that he will stay in the race through Sept. 9 suggests the mayor will have to keep working to resonate as the middle-ground alternative.

6. Eric Cantor lost. Unbelievable!

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

27 thoughts on “5 takeaways from Tuesday night’s Democratic RI gov. debate

  1. Pell was pathetic. I was glad however to see him move his left arm 45 minutes into the debate though since I was beginning to believe there might be a problem.

    Raimondo handled the Wall Street contribution question very well I thought with her I’m from Smithfield……… answer. Her answer that the pension problem was the worst in the country which she inherited had all the merit necessary to defuse that except among the union faithful. She isn’t getting their vote anyway so why pander at this point.

    Was anyone going to challenge Pell on his dribble that he would have negotiated the pension deal ad nauseum? What was he going to do increase their deal? You tried I admit to the point where you asked him if he would veto it the way it was but he avoided even that with his ‘negotiation’ dribble.

    Honestly while Taveras is terrible in public as a speaker I wondered why so much time was given to Pell and Raimondo and so little to him. However he like the rest refused to give straight answers to questions. He couldn’t explain endorsing the man that left Providence with a supposed $110 million dollar deficit other than to say he is a Democrat.

    Raimondo stole the show one way or the other because at 7:59 her commercial, which was great btw, played with her and her family riding bikes throughout the State while campaign promises were repeated. It was a nice commercial. If she gets by the primary she wins.

    • But is Raimondo really likeable? I would use the same word you used for Pell’s way of speaking — dribble — to describe her, too. She has a very strange intonation that makes everything sound like she’s on “autopilot.” At least Taveras is, as the article points out, honest (even to a fault).

      I think with Raimondo, she’s being pulled in so many directions and trying to appeal to so many demographics that we won’t know what kind of governor she might be until she’s sitting in the office.

      At least with Taveras, what you see is what you get. He speaks plainly and to the point, doesn’t get tripped up by rehearsed lines, and at the end of the day seems like a nice guy.

      Hope he does well in the primary. Too bad he doesn’t have Raimondo’s “warchest”

      • Not sure if that’s what the original poster Jim meant, but I kind of like dribble.

        Pell spoke in spurts and stutters, as if he had partially memorized a speech and it was coming to him in disjointed chunks.

        And I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a dribble of saliva trickle down the chins of both Pell AND Raimondo. People make fun of Obama for his dependence on the teleprompter, but these two took it to the next level of autopilot — dead behind the eyes, monotone, and a little insincere.

      • I did mean ‘drivel’ but in retrospect dribble closely approximates what Pell was doing out there.

  2. Angel hit the home run when he looked in the camera and said Rhode Islanders will get us out of this mess.

    We can not let 38 Studios take over this election. We have been in the tank for 6 yrs. If a candidate can’t talk jobs and uses 38 as his/her crutch don’t vote for him/her.

    This election HAS to be about the 9% unemployment we can’t shake.

  3. Kudos to Channel 12 for scheduling early debates and only including candidates with a chance of winning. The other comments seem to be partisan, but Democratic primary voters have real choices among those on stage last night, and the winner is very likely the next Governor.

  4. I watched this debate and it made me more then ever want to move out of state. I have live here my entire life and have worked hard since I was 14 (during summer programs). I am not saying it has been easy but this state has made it anything but easy. I go to college after high school and come home and work a job for a few years and get laid off because they close, I collect and find another job, work there a year and get laid off because they outsource to India because it’s cheaper. I collect again and have work through a temp agency the last 4 years barely making ends meat to pay my rent, utilities, gas and repairs on my beat down car because companies in RI do not want to hire FT employee’s with experience and pay them over $10/hr. I haven’t had medical and I dont qualify for assistance from the state because I “make too much money” and I refuse to pop out kids because I cant afford them. I go back to school to get a degree in something that would be more “beneficial” (healthcare) and I graduate but companies still wont/dont hire FT with pay and experience. This in turn has lead to my student loans coming due and I placing them in deferrment because I can barely afford to pay what I have in front of me. I live in a run down basement apartment, I use the internet at the library or work so I dont expect people to think I live out of my comfort zone and expect more.

    I want these candidates to live/work in conditions like normal hardworking RI/Americans do and see what it is like. We don’t come from well off families (Pell), get other “royalities” (grants/scholarships/housing/jobs/funding) because we are of another nationality (Tavares), or gloat because we exposed more of RI’s corruptness that was kept under wraps for long that we think that we deserve to be governor to “remove” the rest of it state (Raimondo).

    Well lady 1st of that is never going to happen in this state they will keep it out of your eye and under carpets until your out of sight…. Pell your way to young and need to dip in other states offices before jumping into the governor seat. Tavares…try running for senator or the house of rep before jumping from mayor to governor.

    • Enjoyed reading your comment until this part…”get other “royalities” (grants/scholarships/housing/jobs/funding) because we are of another nationality”

      I think it’s clear from what Taveras has shared of his upbringing that it was never cushy, and probably more similar to your lifestyle that you described and advocated the candidates adopt. If it seems that minorities in this country are afforded certain opportunities, then you’re looking at the wrong side of the issue. Individuals of color like Taveras who make it from the lower class to the ivy league represent a fraction of their peers who never even receive a high school diploma and endure daily hardships that white people frankly should not try to belittle or pretend to empathize with.

      Our nation and our state are certainly in the midst of a class-based crisis, in which income disparity is unprecedented. But do not make the mistake of thinking that we live in a post-racial society. And do not make the mistake of thinking that any demographic other than white American males is the one receiving true societal “royalties.”

      • Tony L,

        I am not saying he had it cushy during his upbringing. I praise him that he is as educated as he is and I am always for education. I am not for the cost/debt that it is leading many of us to in the long run. If you look for scholarships/grants/funding to continue your education many of them are for students who come from unerprivledged homes, have parents who didnt go to college or graduate from high school, or are cenetered around a certain subject/topic.

        I have been trying to move from my extrememly ran down apartment for 2 years and cant because I cant afford anywhere else. Other apartments are too far from my job (over an hr) which would cost more in gas, or just financially out of my price range. I do not have the ability of moving back home with my parents due to them being elderly and living in an elderly highrise.

        If you drive through my city in particular many of those living in the cities low income housing are of other nationalities and by this i am not saying they werent born here in the US. I find it unfair that someone likemyself and so many others gives to the government and the state but when we need assistance we are unable to get anything.

        Here is another example. My company stopped offering medical insurance due to the ACA (Obamacare). I applied to healthsource and they only offered me $50 a month towards my coverage. The cheapest plan was $205 that I was able to participate in to accept the $50 discount. Where did they expect me to come up with the rest of the money? On top of that that specific plan had a $6000 per year deductible and high copays for prescriptions/office visits. I currently go to the local health center for $40/visit and receive my medications for $40/month from Walmart. So for $80/month I see my doctor and have my medication with no insurance and with obamacare just to have insurance it would cost me $155/month.

        Yet I am being responsible in not having children because I cant afford them and others keep popping them out like candy and get handed things on silver platters and live better then I do…

        How is any of this fair to any of us?

  5. Pell did a great job ! Very impressive.
    He is somewhat inexperienced in politics but he will improve in time.
    He is an attractive candidate and a true Democrat.
    Raimondo now claims she is will bring manufacturing back, but she made a statement previously that manufacturing is Not coming back…
    and no one picked up on it.
    Taveras also did an excellent job and he is a great mayor and would probably be an effective Governor as well.
    Raimondo was given a seat on a Yale advisory board and my advice to them is Do Not put her in charge of your Investments ! (I’m sure they won’t)

  6. Thank you WPRI for hosting this important debate.

    Question? Would Clay’s grandfather, the late Senator Pell, be electable in today’s harsh political environment?

    Clay Pell, like his grandfather, embodies the highest standards of ideals for Rhode Island. He will be a great defender of causes for the struggling middle class. One aspect of Clay’s strategic economic plan is rebuilding our infrastructure. This will immediately create jobs. Clay does not believe in reducing taxes for the wealthiest. Gina, a polarizing candidate in many ways, will reduce the taxes for the wealthiest.

    Clay believes the state should invest in education because all students deserve a first class. We are fortunate to have him in the race!

  7. Regardless of whether or not one likes a candidate’s views, calling him a buffoon says more about the name-caller than it does the intended victim of the slur.

    Pell is an officer and JAG lawyer in the United States Coast Guard who graduated from Harvard with high honors, from Georgetown University Law Center with a J.D. (professional doctorate), and from the Coast Guard Direct Commission Officer School, first in his class.

    If anyone thinks that’s the résumé of a fool, impress us. Put your money where your mouth is and post your own credentials for comparison so we don’t think you’re a… well, you know, “buffoon”.

    • His performance in the debate closely resembled that of a fool, his impressive resume aside. Hence the reference.

      No one cares who is grandfather was or that he was able to buy his way through school and has loads of Government connections that gave him titled positions.

      A wealthy silver spooner who has never done a days work in their entire life loans themselves $2 million so they can add another bought and paid for title to their resume? Rhode Islanders are supposed to be in awe of this character because he has money? Sorry to say that as a State we are moving past that thanks in part to Governor Chafee who spoiled that soup for Pell.

      Joan, JD and B are all the same Pell aide posting without credentials.

  8. It’s easy to critique another by throwing around words such as fool. I thought Mr Pell gave a thoughtful look into his ideas for the state. A fool is an unintelligent or ridiculous person. Calling names is easy, thoughtful responses are difficult.

    • Loaning yourself $2 million is a easier than going out and getting contributions based on your ideas and experience.

      Where did Mr Pell generate his fortune? Hard work?

  9. How anyone thought Pell looked good is beyond me. I can’t believe his wife lets him speak in public. There isn’t enough between the three to vote for Pell. But if the teachers manage to get their lapdog the nomination, good. Pell can’t win a two way race. No independent or moderate candidates this year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s