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EXCLUSIVE: Clay Pell Looks To Run For Governor in 2014

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Clay Pell

According to multiple Democratic sources, Clay Pell, grandson of six-term Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, is currently weighing a potential 2014 gubernatorial run in Rhode Island.

Pell, a White House staffer and Coast Guard Reserve Officer, married Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan in a ceremony at First Unitarian Church in Providence earlier this year, and recently was appointed by President Obama as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education in April.

"Pell would start the race with good name identification, but it is very shallow. He would need to quickly establish himself," said Jennifer Duffy with The Cook Political Report. "What is his key issue? What is his vision for the state? Can he rally key Democratic constituencies like the unions around his candidacy? What is his geographic base?"

While the election is just over a year away, the entrance of Pell would dramatically change the landscape in the race for Governor.

See Pell Family Legacy Slideshow BELOW

Senator Claiborne Pell

As the grandson of Senator Claiborne Pell, whose legacy includes the Pell Grant, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Pell IV has followed in his grandfather's footsteps in both civil -- and military -- service.

Pell, a JAG who graduated first in his class from Coast Guard Direct Commission Officer School, has a JD from Georgetown University and graduated from Harvard University with high honors in Social Studies and a Citation in Modern Standard Arabic. 

Named to the 2011-2012 class of White House Fellows, Pell served as Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Staff prior to his recent appointment to the Department of Education post.

Impact on Governor's Race

Pell would enter a field of candidates for Rhode Island Governor in 2014 that has some definition at this point, but more than its share of uncertainty still.  

Governor Lincoln Chafee has already declared he will not be seeking re-election. Former gubernatorial candidate and Moderate Party founder Ken Block has declared his candidacy, while speculation swirls as to whether he might decide to run as a Republican.

And while Cranston Mayor Allan Fung has announced the formation of an "exploratory committee", neither Providence Mayor Angel Taveras nor General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, both widely considered to be in consideration, have made any formal announcements at this time, although both have been polling in the field.

Duffy further weighed in on Pell's possible addition to the roster of those seeking Smith Hill's highest seat next year.  

Parsing Pell's Chances

Jennifer Duffy

"The possibility of Clay Pell entering the Democratic gubernatorial primary raises more questions for me than I have answers for. Certainly the Pell name has a great deal of political cachet in Rhode Island, but the Pell name hasn't been on a ballot since 1990 -- a political generation ago," said Duffy.

Duffy continued, "While Clay Pell has an impressive resume -- Coast Guard officer and White House Fellow -- he has not been tested on the campaign trail or proven his fundraising chops. I don't mean to suggest that he doesn't possess one or both, but no one really knows yet."

"Overall, if Pell was to run, it adds some uncertainty to an already very interesting primary," Duffy added.  

Field Taking Shape?

Rhode Island State House Photo: Infrogmation

With the only declared candidates in Block and Todd Giroux, Pell's entrance could force the hand of the other potential candidates.  

"I have always believed that Raimondo would be the beneficiary of a three-way primary race if she is the only woman in the field. If she is giving serious consideration to running as an independent, Pell's entrance into the race should give her pause," said Duffy. "Absent Pell's candidacy, I have a long pro/con list of the implications of Raimondo running as an independent."

As for whether the Pell entrance would impact Taveras at all, Duffy did not see that being the case.

"The only compelling reason I can think of for Tavares to rethink running for Governor is if his natural constituency (i.e., public employees unions) backs Pell instead. Although Tavares hasn't announced, he is pretty far down the road in this contest," said Duffy. "There would have to be some very compelling evidence that he can't win a three-way contest for him to think about abandoning the race now.


Related Slideshow: The Pell Family Legacy

In 1960, an unknown political force swept Rhode Island and became one of the most unlikely United States Senators in America. 

Claiborne Pell beat two former RI Governors and held the Senate seat until 1997. Now, his grandson who has ties to the White House and a superstar wife, is gearing up for a run for Governor of Rhode Island. Take a look at the Pell family legacy.

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1960 Election

Claiborne Pell was the son of the United States Ambassador to Portugal and later Hungary. 

Pell was considered a long shot when he ran for the United States Senate in 1960, but he out-worked the Democratic machine and defeated former Governor Dennis J. Roberts and former Governor and U.S. Senator J. Howard McGrath in the Democratic primary. It was one of the biggest upsets in RI political history.

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The Legacy

Pell's legacy was two fold: he was one of the most unque members of the United States Senate; and he built an impressive track record of legislative successes.

He was the author of the legislative effort that created the Pell Grants, he created the National Endowment for the Arts, and he served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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Senate Support

If Clay Pell decides to run for Governor of Rhode Island, it would be hard to imagine that he would not receive strong support from United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Whitehouse has enjoyed unyielding support from the Pell family and the matriarch Nuala Pell.

Whitehouse's early support would help push Pell into a very formidable position.

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White House

A Clay Pell candidacy would not only get a boost from his family's reputation, but his own resume would make him credible out of the box.

In April of 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Pell to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education.

This Presidential appointment comes after Pell served as Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Staff at the White House, "where he helped develop and advance a number of the President’s key national security and global competitiveness priorities across the globe."

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Clay Pell attended Harvard, earned a JD from Georgetown and has passed the RI, MA and US Supreme Court Bar exams.

He is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

Pell also served as a White House Fellow.

Prev Next

Kwan Factor

Pell married Olympic two-time Olympic medalist, Michelle Kwan in January of 2013 in Newport.

Kwan brings an impressive resume of her own beyond being five-time World Champion and nine-time US skating Champ.

In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Michelle Kwan as a public diplomacy ambassador. 
Her diplomatic position has continued for the Obama Administration as she has worked with Vice President Joe Biden and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Great -

How can anything change in this state when the same families run for office?

What a waste of time it was for our founding fathers to fight for our freedom against being ruled by kings and their siblings.

Rhode Island politics - insanity at its finest.


Never forget Benghazi 2012 - Clinton and Obama left four Americans to die.

Comment #1 by Killary Klinton on 2013 10 15

Killary Klinton -

Agree. Much of what's happening is a distraction from Benghazi and the long arc design behind it.

Comment #2 by paul zecchino on 2013 10 15

Clay,are you that bored? why would you want to complicate your life? politics is probably the worst endeavor to consider,and why would you align yourself with the new breed of social,progressives that have hijacked Democrat party.Your grandfather was a great old school democrat with values and dignity,I'm sure he would be shocked today to see what his party has turned into.Today's Democrat party is a idealistic, rigid, hate filled organization that only knows how to attack and discredit anyone who doesn't agree with them,this is the same party that has brought this state to its economic knees and has no sound ideas to fix a crumbling situation.All they do is throw more and more money into entitlement and special interest programs at the expense of the working middle class and business. You're probably a good person with good heart,but if you get involved with today's breed of Democrat you may become something you don't want to be.

Comment #3 by LENNY BRUCE on 2013 10 15

What is with some of these families that they believe it is their hereditary right to pursue Political Office as a lifetime career?

Well....at least the Pell name is to be respected vs. the TRASH that are the Kennedy's!

All the Kennedy's!

Comment #4 by TOM LETOURNEAU on 2013 10 15

Mr Pell, why not start at the local level and run for City Council or Mayor. Why a run for Governor your first time out? Do you feel local government is beneath you?
David Cicilline left our capitol city in horrendous financial condition. Providence is struggling badly and could use your help(if you are not a progressive-liberal).
I hope you will re-think your options

Comment #5 by Chris MacWilliams on 2013 10 15

OMG, have we learned nothing from the continuing disaster of Lincoln Chafee? Pell has -- drumroll please -- a recognized RI family name and he recently married a celebrity ice skater. And Pell is now beholden to Obama. Apparently these are considered to be sufficient qualifications by some in RI for the governorship. Not believable.

Comment #6 by Bill Ardtev on 2013 10 15

You'd think someone with a resume' like Pells', would never consider lowering himself to the needed level to gain democrat support in Rhode Island.

Comment #7 by David Beagle on 2013 10 15

Duffy continued, "While Clay Pell has an impressive resume -- Coast Guard officer and White House Fellow -- he has not been tested on the campaign trail or proven his fundraising chops. I don't mean to suggest that he doesn't possess one or both, but no one really knows yet."

this is the sad part... the guy is 31 years old, been some sort of middle manager in of all places government.

and duffy sides steps if he is qualified and talks about how he would be as a campaigner.

a coast guard officer is qualified to run a $9 billion budget with 13,000 employees in a state that is just about broke?? this is laughable........

Comment #8 by john paycheck on 2013 10 15

Some people need to get off the Benghazi crap, move on !

Comment #9 by Mark St. Pierre on 2013 10 15

This is good..2 high income earners who will now have to pay car taxes and file as RI residents for income tax purposes..

Comment #10 by Prof Steve on 2013 10 15

At the end of the day, could this state be in any worse shape if a regular working stiff with a GED and no family trust fund was to win the race for governor?

Comment #11 by David Beagle on 2013 10 15

If you are anything like your Grandfather, which I think you are Rhode Island would benefit. Thank You for your Service!

Comment #12 by THOMAS Murray on 2013 10 15

Mark, you say get over Benghazi, more on . . .
“What difference does it make?” as Hillary Clinton would say.

No, many of us won’t “move on.” Four Americans died in Benghazi while Obama dozed and Hillary picked her nose.

Shameful indifference.

Comment #13 by James Berling on 2013 10 15

@ Mark St. Pierre:
While not certain what Benghazi has to do with this article, it is far from crap. Four Americans, including a US Ambassador, died needlessly do to an indifferent and arrogant Secty. of State (Hilary, who wants to by your next President) and an incompetent Chief Executive (Obama) who showed little interest in the danger to the American Embassy, despite several, urgent warnings. Ask the families of the four who died in the line of duty if they think it's crap!

Comment #14 by Walter Miller on 2013 10 15

Seriously, get over Benghazi!? Low information voter, voting for the Democrat of their choice. No respect.

Comment #15 by Joyce Bryant on 2013 10 15

You think your comments are going to bring them back ? You think it matters whose in the White House ? Get real, this is the way America plays the game Democrat or Republican it doesn't matter. Closed mind voter, voting for the Republican of their choice. Drinking too much conservative kool-aid !

Comment #16 by Mark St. Pierre on 2013 10 15

How about all the young mean and women killed or injured in Iraq, which had no legal basis as being a war? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam, although a dictator, had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 terrorist attacks. Bush lied and too many people give him a pass.

Comment #17 by Richard Wilkes on 2013 10 15

He doesn't live in RI.

Why any RIer in their right mind would vote for a silver spooner who hasn't done a day's work in their entire life is beyond me but it happens all the time here.

Comment #18 by Jim D on 2013 10 16

"How about all the young mean and women killed or injured in Afghanistan, which had no legal basis as being a war? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Karzai, although a dictator, had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 terrorist attacks. Obama lied and too many people give him a pass."

Fixed it for all you Obamabots like Richard


Fast & Furious Gun Running
IRS Targeting the T.E.A. Party
NSA Spying on Americans

Oh yeah - BENGHAZI 2012 where Clinton ignored the ambassador's Emails and Obama went to bed and then to a fund raiser the next morning.

Liberals: can't fix stupid!

Comment #19 by Killary Klinton on 2013 10 16

Let me echo Jim D's observation about the potential Gubernatorial run of Clay Pell. Basically, RI'ers have a major inferiority complex, as a result we see "transplants" as the answer politically, all the better if they attended an Ivy League college. We've done it multiple times beginning with Senator Pell and others(Claudine Schneider, Ron Machtly, Nancy Mayer, Patrick Kennedy). And because RI is so small, these wealthy/connected transplants see our state as an easy target to further their personal ambitions because it requires much much less $$ to run a campaign.

Mr. Pell might be a nice man with a celebrity wife, however, he is not a RI'er and has little to no practical experience needed to run a multi-billion $ state with serious issues.

Comment #20 by Walter Miller on 2013 10 16

Is being governor of RI a path to the white house?..is that the plan?

Comment #21 by LENNY BRUCE on 2013 10 17

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