EXCLUSIVE: Clay Pell Looks To Run For Governor in 2014

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


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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

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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

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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?

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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.

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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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