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Will Gina Raimondo & Angel Taveras Run for Governor?

Monday, December 17, 2012


The 2014 Democratic primary for Governor is still more than 20 months away, but the two most popular politicians in the state appear to be on a collision course to square off in what could be the most tightly contested gubernatorial primary since Myrth York knocked off now-Senator Sheldon Whitehouse by less than 1,000 votes in 2002.

In one corner is General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the chief architect of the state’s landmark pension overhaul and a fundraising powerhouse who has built a campaign war chest that already tops $1 million. In a Brown University poll released last October, Raimondo’s approval rating stood at 58.7 percent.

In the other is Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who has crafted his own pension reform package while helping the city navigate through the $110 million structural deficit he inherited when he took office in 2011. That same Brown poll gave him a 65.6 percent approval rating among statewide voters.

Both Raimondo and Taveras have remained mum on their future aspirations, but political observers say each would be a strong candidate for the state’s top job, which is currently occupied by Independent Lincoln Chafee, who appears likely to run for re-election as well, perhaps as a Democrat.

“Each of them has a very different base,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies and founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. “Raimondo draws well among the business community while Taveras has strong support from labor and progressive groups. She is touting pension reform as a signature accomplishment. I would expect him to run well among Latinos and in the big urban areas. She likely will be stronger in suburban communities. Her biggest strength will be in fundraising. She has more of a national donor base than he does.”

As of Sept. 30, Raimondo had $1,073,286.38 in the bank while Taveras had $267,163.56. Former Auditor General Ernest Almonte – the only candidate who has officially announced his plans to run for Governor in two years— had $112,163.17.

Pension Reform Differences

At first glance, both Raimondo and Taveras appear to have similar political leanings –they’re both socially liberal— but the two have been thrust into the spotlight thanks to their different strategies when it comes to pension reform.

Raimondo convinced the General Assembly to pass legislation to make changes to the state’s pension system and now the law is being challenged in court by several statewide unions. Taveras originally took a similar approach when trying to overhaul the capital city’s pension system, but then reached a settlement with both the city’s retirees and its unions.

Union leaders have praised Taveras for sitting down with his unions and reaching an agreement and have urged Raimondo to do the same. The Treasurer has said she would like to let the process play out in court.

"When you compare and contrast the paths followed by Mayor Taveras and Treasurer Raimondo, it seems clear the Mayor's direction led to a better solution,” said Patrick Crowley, government relations director for National Education Association of Rhode Island. “It is always better to negotiate resolution to difficult problems instead of litigating them. That's why I think you see people from across the political spectrum in Rhode Island - from Governor Chafee, to Mayor Fung, to Auditor Almonte and even Ken Block agreeing with the Mayor and not with the Treasurer and her Enron-backed cronies. It never hurts to talk things out."

Angel’s Strong Base

Crowley, whose union backed Chafee in 2010, did not wish to comment specifically on a Raimondo/Taveras matchup in 2014, but Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi said the support of organized labor can be a deciding factor in a Democratic primary.

“Gina will have serious problems in a primary with organized labor, which is also a major player in Democratic primaries,” Profughi said. “If I had to choose between the strength of a sitting mayor of Providence and a General Treasurer, I'd rather be the Mayor. But, remember, we are talking primary. Providence mayors don't have much of a successful track record in actually winning the governorship.”

A Providence Mayor hasn’t won a gubernatorial race since Dennis Roberts in 1950. Despite their popularity, former Mayors Vincent “Buddy” Cianci and Joe Paolino were both blown out in their attempts and current Congressman David Cicilline never made a run for the state’s top job.

But if anyone could halt that streak, it would be Taveras, Profughi said.

“Angel would start into a Democratic primary with a good Latino base from Providence, which is a major city player in Democratic primaries,” he said. “He can build on this with the growing Latino vote.”

Schiller: Complicated Primary

With so much still undecided, Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller agreed that both Raimondo and Taveras would be strong candidates, but noted that with Governor Chafee now hinting that he might join the Democratic party, a primary would become far more complicated.

On the Republican side, she said former candidate John Robitaille, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and former Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty would “all make formidable candidates.”

“Although it is very early, I think one key to victory in the Democratic primary would be to show compassionate leadership with fiscal responsibility and eye to the future of Rhode Island,” Schiller said. “These two office holders are relatively young, energetic, and charismatic so they have an opportunity to remold traditional Democratic politics in Rhode Island. But if their primary battle gets too nasty, they could keep the door open for the Republicans/Independents to maintain control of the Governor's office as they have for the last 18 years.”

Raimondo photo credit: Gammino Photography

Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.


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