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Primary Elections Results Which May Predict the 2014 Outcomes

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


The political future of many of the state's highest profile elected officials and politician's fate rests with the voters one week from today.

For a few they will go on to the November General Election showdown, but for others this may be the last race they ever run in.

Who would have thought Ron Machtley would never run for office again after his 1994 loss in the GOP primary. The past primaries offer some interesting insights into next week's Republican and Democratic showdowns.

The one issue that comes through consistently is turn out - for both Democrats and Republicans turnout has varied by huge swing margins even in years with very contested races.

Take a look at the trends unveiled in some of the biggest primaries in recent RI history. What cities matter, impact on women candidates, the GOP curse, and the primary link between Jack Reed and Gio Feroce.


Related Slideshow: Primary Elections Results Which May Predict the 2014 Outcomes

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1990 Dem Gov's Race

1990 Democratic Primary Governor's Race

Providence was on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1990 as one of America's Hottest Cities and its then Mayor Joe Paoilino raised millions on his way to the State House.  But along the way, Warwick Mayor and now Supreme Court Judge Frank Flaherty and two-time loser Bruce Sundlun got in the way.

Paolino, the front-runner finished third and in key cities like Cranston he only won 21% of the Democratic votes and in Warwick it was just 13%.

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Primary Turnout - Dems

Governor's Democratic Primary Turnout

In 2002, the Democrats faced a three-way battle ultimately won by Myrth York. Total turnout among the three high profile Democrats (York, now US Senator Shldon Whitehouse and then-House Finance Committee Chair Tony Pires) was 119,524 votes.

That number pales to the 1990 Democratic Governor's primary which recorded 167,916 total votes (Sundlun, Flaherty and Paolino).

The 2002 turnout was nearly 30% lower than 1990.

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Primary Turnout - GOP

GOP Races Turnout Very Widely (too)

The three most contested races for the GOP nomination for Governor show two things - turnout can very greatly (see next slide for the other).

In 1992, Mike Levesque lost to Elizabeth Leonard - the total vote in that primary was just 14,460.  Levesque, the former GOP Chairman won just under 48% of the vote.


In 1996, the turn out in the GOP primary jumped by 300% to 45,023 votes cast. Ron Machtley who lost badly in the primary to Lincoln Almond received substantially more votes than both GOP candidates did in 1992. Machtley won 18,150 votes (40%) to Almonds 26,873 (60%).


In 1992, independents voted in the Democratic primary and in 1994, independents swung over to the GOP race.

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Endorsement Curse

Being Endorsed in the GOP Race may be the kiss of death

In the past 22 plus years the GOP has had three bruising primaries for Governor and each time the endorsed candidate lost.

In 1992: Mike Levesque (endorsed) lost to Elizabeth Leonard

In 1994: Ron Machtley (endorsed) lost to Lincoln Almond

In 2002: Jim Bennett (endorsed) lost to Don Carcieri

In 2014, Allan Fung is the endorsed GOP candidate for Governor

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Cranston and Warwick

Warwick and Cranston Really Matter

While Providence is the Capitol city and has the largest population, those that win Warwick and Cranston win. In every nearly every race for Governor, the candidate that takes the second and third largest cities takes wins the primary.

Moreover, there is little correlation between winning Providence and success in Warwick and Cranston. The invert may be the case. The 1990 Democratic primary is the perfect example, Providence Mayor Joe Paolino won Providence, but only received 13% of the vote in Warwick and 21% in Cranston. Paolino won 13,782 votes in Providence. Frank Flaherty won 14,484 in Cranston and Warwick and finished second in the primary.

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Unions and Turnout

Unions and Turnout

Conventional wisdom is that the Democrat with the strongest union support will win especially in a smaller turnout. This may not always be true. In 1990, Paolino had the most union endorsements. In 2002, Sheldon Whitehouse was the union candidate and finished with just 38.4% of the Democratic primary vote and losing to Myrth York. 

The turnout in the Democratic primary was suppressed from the 1990 high of 167,916 - a decrease of nearly 50,000 votes. Yet, despite the lower turnout, unions failed to push Whitehouse over the top.

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Women Candidates

Can Women Win Tight Primaries? Can they win the General Election?

Myrth York won the tough 2002 primary for the Democratic nod for governor. Elizabeth Leonard beat Mike Levesque in 1990, but both lost in the General Elections.

York lost three times running for Governor in 1994 and 1998 to Lincoln Almond and again in 2002 to Don Carcieri.  No woman has won the Governor's office or a United States Senate seat in RI.  Republican Claudine Schneider served in Congress from 1981 to 1991 and is the only woman to represent the state in Congress.

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Bonus From Our Research: John, Jack and Gio

Two of Rhode Island's best known both won their primaries, but failed to get 50% of the race in 3 or 4 way contests.

Jack (John) Reed won the 1990 4-way Democratic Congressional primary with 49% of the vote. Reed bested Ed Beard, Rod Driver and Charlie Gifford. Reed went on to beat Trudy Coxe in the General Election.

Gio (John) Feroce of Alex and Ani and now Benrus fame was the GOP candidate for Lt. Governor in 1994. Feroce won 45% of the vote in a 3-way beating Robert Plante and Gloria Nerney. Feroce lost to Bob Weygand.


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