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Democratic Primary: Is This Raimondo’s Race to Lose?

Friday, April 25, 2014


She’s leading in the polls, has a hefty war chest, and she’s raking in the endorsements. So, is this gubernatorial primary Gina Raimondo’s race to lose?

Not yet, say local and national political experts. The numbers tell a part of the story, but there’s more going on behind the polls and plenty of time for turmoil or turnover before the primary.

The latest statewide public opinion survey by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University has Raimondo ahead with 29.4% of voters compared to 25.8% for Taveras and 9.6% for Pell. With five months left before the primary, 35.2% of likely Democratic voters are still undecided.

“It’s still early, but I think she is the leader at this point,” says former Communications Director for Governor Donald Carcieri, Steve Kass.

“The Mayor is vulnerable on the state of the city. He certainly inherited a tsunami but the city is a mess physically, and the pension issues remain. His critics will nail him for his current focus on infrastructure as too little too late. Given the unfunded liabilities reality, he will be on the fence all the time. Taxes are bad enough now, can you imagine what the future holds?”

Can Pell win?

If Raimondo is out front and Taveras has city struggles, where does that leave Pell?

“From what I have seen he will have a very difficult time. Short answer: No,” Kass says.

Political expert and Brookings Institutions Vice President Darrell West says Pell should hope for an ugly race between Taveras and Raimondo, the distraction he needs to get positive attention.

“Polls show this race being very competitive between Raimondo and Taveras, with Pell trailing far behind. Taveras is popular, but has baggage associated with being mayor of Providence. He needs to balance the demands of his day job with the task of being a candidate,” West says.

“It is not clear how Pell breaks through. His debut was not very impressive and it may be difficult for him to raise the funds he needs in order to be competitive. His best shot may be a race that gets very nasty between the top two contenders and people turn to him as a way out of the muck.”

Despite his low numbers, experts say Pell remains a viable candidate according to local experts. Most agree that his campaign launch was lackluster, but those same observers say there’s plenty of time for him to make a difference in the race.

“Pell still has a shot if he doesn't stumble again. Right now, however, he should do a two-week steady media blitz introducing himself as the heir to all the issues that his grandfather espoused with his commitment to them. There is an image of him as a scatterbrain, which he needs to defuse by creating a picture of a serious and committed candidate,” said former Attorney General Arlene Violet.

To that end, Pell recently laid out his campaign’s strategy at his first major press conference since he announced for office in January. He strategy for rebuilding Rhode Island’s economy is based on the idea that: “Government must support economic progress in the Ocean State.’’

Included in his goals are a first class education system, high-quality infrastructure, and emphasis on Rhode Island’s unique qualities. He also plans to use the fact that he speaks multiple languages to court and keep businesses of all stripes to the Ocean State.

“There is no question that Pell has a lot of work to do, but he has the time and resources to do it. There seems to be a strategy that is being executed every day. He may not see his numbers move in a meaningful way until he goes on television,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senior Editor – U.S. Senate & Governors – at The Cook Political Report.

As for Pell's fellow candidates, Violet believes they are the obvious frontrunners.

“In the democratic primary the race right now between Gina and Angel is too close to call. She is building momentum by getting seven endorsements from non-public unions and she has a lot of money to spend. Angel can get free press through his initiatives in the city. Mayor Taveras is redoubling his efforts in the Mayor's office to get free press coverage without having to spend his war chest.”

Poll position

Duffy says the Brown poll’s biggest revelation is the longevity of the race.

“I don't think it is anyone's race to lose. The Brown poll had a sample of likely voters and didn't push them as to whether they leaned one way or the other. As a result, the high number of undecided voters is a pretty good clue that this race has a long way to go” Duffy says.

When asked about the Mayor’s recent focus on his duties at City Hall, Duffy referenced the last candidate to sit in that chair.

“No one thought much about Cicilline spending more time running for Congress than running Providence until it was too late. This remains a fresh memory for voters and Tavares can't put himself in a position of being compared to Cicilline, the Absentee Mayor.”

Anyone can lose

Dr. Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island, says the road ahead could twist in ways no one – not even the candidates – can predict. But three twists are already in place.

“At this time, any of the Democratic candidates could lose the race for Governor because the race has now taken on three external events beyond the control of the candidates. First, the pension situation in Court – particularly if the General Treasurer and the Governor have to go back to the General Assembly to rewrite the legislation. Second, the outcome of the Fox investigation and what happens if other public officials are named,”Mazze said.

“And third, a more thorough investigation of each candidate by the press looking at their major financial supporters and the economic and financial viability of their proposed programs. After listening to the three candidates and reading their position papers, it is still impossible to tell what their real vision is for the state for education, economic development, social programs, ethics and improving the infrastructure. The General Treasurer and the Mayor must make sure their current areas of responsibility are well run - any error, any bad press and anything that backfires could make Pell an alternative. At the same time, if Pell is just relying on union support, he needs to be looking for another job somewhere. Pell is a spoiler and the only way he can be elected Governor is if the General Treasurer, the Mayor and the Republican party disappears. Stranger things have happened in Rhode Island.”


Related Slideshow: Win-Loss Records for 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates’ Campaign Managers

Oftentimes operating largely behind the scenes, a candidate's campaign manager or consultant plays an instrumental role in the outcome of the race.  

The 2014 Rhode Island Gubernatorial candidates have assembled their campaign teams -- and managers, all of whom bring extensive political operative experience to the table.  

Below is a look at the "batting average" of past efforts of the current set of top operatives when they were at the helm of other political races.  

Prev Next

Eric Hyers - Campaign Manager, Gina Raimondo

Congressman David Cicilline's 2010 Campaign:  WON

Congressman David Cicilline's 2012 Campaign: WON

NJ State Senator Nia Gill's 2013 Campaign: WON

MA State Sen. Karen Spilka 2013 Congressional Campaign:  LOST

Winning Percentage: .750

Hyers, who cut his teeth organizing for for now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand when she first ran for Congress in 2006, worked as a field organizer for John Edwards for President in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, directed a statewide field operation in Wyoming, managed state legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey, and served as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Democratic Party. 

Hyers scored big while managing campaigns in New Jersey and Rhode Island, but came up short most recently in Massachusetts.  

Prev Next

Danny Kedem - Campaign Manager, Angel Taveras

Anthony Wiener's 2013 New York Mayoral Campaign:  QUIT

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano's 2011 Campaign:  WON

Winning Percentage: .500

Kedem joined Wiener's political comeback bid after Weiner had resigned from Congress in a sexting scandal -- only to leave when Wiener once more was caught continuing the habit, spelling his downfall once again.  

Connecticut Magazine's Jennifer Swift delineated Kedem's campaign history as having successful managed a New Haven mayoral bid, as well as outlining Kedem's early days organizing for Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill’s U.S. Senate campaign and Hillary Clinton's 2008 run for the presidency.

Prev Next

Jeff Britt -- Campaign Consultant, Ken Block

2002 Bruce Bayuk RI General Assembly Write-In Campaign: LOST

2006 RI Governor Donald Carcieri Campaign:  WON

2012 Mark Binder RI General Assembly Campaign: LOST

Winning Percentage: .333

Seasoned political operative Britt lost close races in Bayuk and Binder, but scored big with Carcieri while working alongside Ken McKay.  Following the Bayuk effort, Britt served in the "Carcieri 1" administration to work across the aisle and support GOP efforts statewide.  

Prev Next

Patrick Sweeney -- Campaign Consultant, Allan Fung

2010 John Loughlin Congressional Campaign: LOST

2012 Barry Hinckley Senate Campaign: LOST

Winning Percentage: .000

The former Executive Director of the Rhode Island Republican Party has extensive campaign and consulting experience, but is still looking to win big spearheading a major candidate effort.  

Sweeney was Deputy Campaign Manager for Loughlin in 2010.  

Prev Next

Devin Driscoll -- Campaign Manager, Clay Pell

Northeast Regional Director, Organizing for Action

Communications Director, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage

Winning Percentage:  N/A

Driscoll has headed up successful grassroots efforts and served on the Obama for America campaign in two separate stints, as Rhode Island state director for the 2012 campaign and as a field organizer in 2008.  Managing Pell's run for Governor marks Driscoll's first bid to win a statewide office campaign.  


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