RI Governor’s Race is Now a Complete Toss-Up

Thursday, March 08, 2018


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Matt Brown - game changer - on GoLocal LIVE on Wednesday

Welcome to political chaos in 2018. The Governor’s race in Rhode Island last week looked to give the nod to Governor Gina Raimondo, but the race has now turned into the wild, wild west.

The race, which was already complex with primaries on both sides and multiple independent candidates, just got a lot more unpredictable with an unlikely addition of former Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown. He is currently looking to run as an independent -- and would run to the left of Raimondo if she wins the Democratic primary.


“All these people wanting to run for Governor are probably inspired by the late Bob Healey who spent $10 and got 21 percent! But Joe Trillo’s low numbers in the latest poll indicate the difficulty of an independent bid,” said former Governor Lincoln Chafee — a potential 2018 candidate.

“We’ll see what happens. When I announced for Governor in 2010, there were four well-known candidates in the Democratic primary- Caprio, Roberts, Lynch and Cicilline -- [and] when the dust cleared it was only Caprio,” said Chafee.

He was referring to then-General Treasurer Frank Caprio, then-Lt. Governor Liz Roberts, then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and then-Providence Mayor David Cicilline.

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The path to re-election just got a lot more complicated for Raimondo

Complete Reset

The announcement by Brown that he will enter the race is a nightmare scenario for Raimondo. First, it is unknown if Chafee will primary her in on the Democratic side. That would be the second potential recalibration of the race. Chafee has high name recognition and can self-fund millions into the race. Chafee does have a bit of baggage too — from Christmas Trees to the metric system.

“The entrance of Matt Brown certainly shifts the playing field. Known as a strong progressive, Brown's entrance could either pull those strongly on the left away from Gov. Gina Raimondo's base or force her to position herself as slightly more liberal than she's been,” said Kay Israel, Professor Emeritus at Rhode Island College.

“Brown's candidacy gives those who might previously been left with the choice of voting for the Governor or staying home, the option to indicate their view through a protest vote for the former Secretary of State.  If Raimondo can demonstrate her progressive bonafides she could blunt Brown's appeal,” said Israel.

Political Professor of Politics at American University -- and GoLocal LIVE regular -- Jennifer Lawless said the Democrats might see the situation for what it is, however -- and act accordingly.


“As for Brown’s candidacy affecting the broader dynamics of the race, his entry means that Raimondo can win with an even smaller share of the vote. Brown might attract progressive Democrats, but if Democrats – including those progressives – are concerned that Brown’s candidacy could be a spoiler that results in a Republican governor, then they’re likely to support Raimondo,” said Lawless.

Wild Card Factor of Third Party Candidates

Just as Moderate Party candidate, the late-Bob Healey, ruined GOP candidate Allan Fung’s chance to be Governor in 2014 by taking a surprising 22 percent of the vote, more often than not historically voters shift back to traditional party candidates once in the voter’s booth.

“The more independent candidates, the less predictable the election becomes. It often is unclear all the way to the end of the campaign how independent candidates will run. Even if [independent candidates] poll at 10 percent a month before the election, it rarely is clear if they will hold that number or drop down to a few percentage points,’ said Darrell West, Vice President at the Brookings Institute.

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GOP path just got a lot easier

“There also is uncertainty over who they will hurt the most in terms of voter support. Independent candidates often straddle party lines so it is hard to ascertain whether they draw more from the Democratic or Republican nominee. Some of the biggest surprises have come in races with independent candidates because their support can move substantially in the closing weeks of the campaign,” said West.

Unpredictability may be the most predictable factor in this race.

“So, yes, the race has changed and it's significantly more unpredictable as the variables that used to be significant are losing their power.  Less TV watching and print reading result in less audience and limited reach.  Republican turnout is usually higher in off-year elections, but this year we have the Trump frustration consuming many Rhode Islanders. Around the country we've seen Democratic turnout energized and Republican numbers waning.  Brown's entrance changes things, but it's those other changing factors that will be far more influential in this election year,” said RIC's Israel.

Lawless said she is not optimistic about Brown's potential entrance.

“I don’t see a path to victory for Brown, especially if he’s not the only independent in the race. Even though people are sick and tired of partisanship, polarization, and gridlock, the reality is that most voters still cast partisan votes (and unaffiliated voters in RI who typically vote Democratic or Republican will continue to do so). Of course, there have been exceptions – Chafee is among them. But Brown has neither the name recognition, approval rating, or political capital that Chafee did when he first ran for governor,” said Lawless

Raimondo’s Organization

While the political table has been flipped, Raimondo still has the significant advantage in organization and financial resources. Some challengers whisper that Hillary Clinton had the same advantages in the 2016 Presidential campaign, but don’t want to say it publicly for fear of being tapped as sexist.

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Linc Chafee is the unknown

“Elections are often won by intelligent planning. The Governor has the financial resources to get her message out and isn't likely to have an expensive primary battle.  On the other hand, the Republicans have at least two viable contenders who can cost the other both votes and dollars.  The presence of a 'Trump' independent candidate, Joe Trillo, doesn't aid the Republican situation,” said Israel.

Raimondo has been a fundraising juggernaut, out-fundraising Fung and fellow GOP challenger Patricia Morgan by more than ten-to-one. Raimondo raised $570,000 for the fourth quarter of 2017 and has more than $3.3 million on hand.

Brown, who has a national network from working in Washington, D.C., is unlikely to match Raimondo fundraising levels, but could leverage his Bernie Sanders' message and run a very competitive small donor campaign from younger progressives — both in Rhode Island and nationally.

One thing is for sure, Brown's entrance into the Governor's race changed everything.


Related Slideshow: Ten Surprises from Benchmark Poll

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18 to 34

Younger Rhode Islanders are significantly more positive about the direction of the state than any other demographic group, but even they hate the PawSox deal.

"Right direction" of the state and Gina Raimondo both do significantly better with younger voters.

The survey shows that 80% of 18 to 34-year-olds oppose the proposed funding for the PawSox stadium.

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Governor Gina Raimondo has real problems. Only elected with 40 percent of the vote, Raimondo has had some success in attracting companies like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric, but the criticism by former Governor Lincoln Chafee and others that her economic policy is a "candy store" for corporations seems to be impacting her reputation.

After four years as General Treasurer and four years as Governor are Rhode Islanders just getting tired of her?

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Not Buying

Rhode Islanders are simply not interested in funding the PawSox deal. Pollster John Della Volpe has polled on bond questions in Rhode Island and most recently on the Port question and said on GoLocal LIVE that he has never seen such low support for a question like this in Rhode Island.

Simply, regardless of age group, political affiliation, and geographic area in which people live in the state are adamantly opposed to taking on the moral obligation of the bonds to fund a privately owned stadium.

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Lt. Governor Dan McKee has a name recognition problem. When asked, "Would you say that Daniel McKee has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Lieutenant Governor?"  

More than 50 percent cannot rate him or have never heard of McKee.

Even after three years in office, the majority of Rhode Islanders either have no opinion or refused to answer.

Would you say that Daniel McKee has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Lieutenant Governor?
Excellent 3%
Good 16%
Fair 21%
Poor 8%
Never heard of 26%
Cannot rate  25%

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Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello is now faced with his former opponent Steve Frias going door-to-door canvassing against the proposed PawSox deal. West Bay voters only approve of the PawSox deal at a rate of 27 percent.

Mattiello is battling issues tied to staffer Frank Montanaro and claims of sexual harassment at the General Assembly. 

Mattiello needs to ask himself, "Is it worth losing your district and the Speakership for the PawSox deal?"

Mattiello beat Frias by less than 100 votes in 2016.

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Governor Gina Raimondo's weak numbers may inspire former Governor Lincoln Chafee to challenge her in the Democratic primary.

Chafee could spend dollar for dollar with Raimondo. He left office with poor poll numbers.

Would you say that Gina Raimondo has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Governor?
Excellent 6%
Good 28%
Fair  30%
Poor 31%
Never heard of 1%
Cannot rate  3%

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Under 40%

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse shows significant weakness in the recent GoLocal Benchmark Poll conducted by Socialsphere. According to the survey, Whitehouse’s job performance has a combined excellent/good of 39 percent.  And, 49 percent of Rhode Islanders score his performance fair/poor.  

Combined 13 percent of Rhode Islanders said they have not heard of him or cannot rate.

Whitehouse who has been a national leader is fighting Greenhouse gases has taken a number of hits in his home state.  A GoLocal investigation found that Whitehouse’s wife is one of the largest shareholders in the all-white Bailey’s Beach Club — and Senator Whitehouse continues to visit the exclusive club. When he first ran for Senate in 2006, he promised to drop his membership in exclusive clubs. Instead of dropping his association with the club -- he transferred his ownership to his wife.

In addition, Whitehouse recently had dinner with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at their home despite having spent months calling for an investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee into Kushner’s roll in the Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Whitehouse’s numbers show vulnerability. Former RI Supreme Court Judge Robert Flanders is expected to run for the United States Senate against Whitehouse as a Republican. Flanders will face a primary with Republican State Representative Bobby Nardolillo.

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The survey questions that ask about how Rhode Island is performing or how people feel about how people feel about their family finances are pointing down. 

Rhode Islanders are not pleased with the direction of the state and only one of the 13 elected official were rated more positive than negative. Jack Reed was the only official over 50% -- combined Excellent/Good.

Would you say that Jack Reed has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent 22%
Good 29%
Fair 23%
Poor 15%
Never heard of 6%
Cannot rate 6%

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Donald Trump has lost significant support since last November's election -- his Excellent/Good number is a dismal 25 percent.

But, as low as that is, it is higher than Seth Magaziner, Peter Kilmartin, of Dan McKee.

Would you say that Donald Trump has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as President?
Excellent 13%
Good 12%
Fair 14%
Poor 57%
Never heard of 0%
Cannot rate 3%

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Rhode Island's economy has recovered from "The Great Recession" and employment in June hit a record high -- just under 500,000 working. 

However, Rhode Islanders are dissatisfied. 

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Governor Raimondo is handling the state economy?
Approve 41%
Disapprove 48%
Don't know/Refused 11%


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