Russ Moore: Raimondo vs. Taveras = Clinton vs. Obama in RI

Monday, September 09, 2013


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With Chafee not seeking re-election, Raimondo and Taveras would do well to remember how similar races played out.

I guess saving the Praying Mantis insect didn’t give Governor Chafee the bump in his poll numbers he was hoping for. What’s worse for him was the fact that neither did his switch to the Party of FDR.

The latter must be quite a shock to Rhode Island’s political pundit class, the majority of which saw his switch to the Democrat Party three months ago as some type of game-changer given his friendship with President Obama or something. Somehow, the theory went, a Governor with approval ratings in the twenties was going to cause Providence Mayor Angel Taveras not to enter the race—talk about a head scratcher.

I never understood what they were talking about. The switch was always a Hail Mary pass by a Governor struggling with low approval ratings, an inability to fundraise, and no clear agenda. Like most Hail Mary passes, it didn’t connect.

In any event, hopefully the Governor is able to complete his term successfully by focusing on, and using the bully pulpit to create jobs instead of shielding violent criminals from the death penalty and arguing with Christians about what to call a Christmas tree.

Raimondo still the favorite

The real question arising from his decision is how it affects the Governor’s race going forward. The political scientists and pundits seem to think that it’s a Godsend for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, and he’s now the one to beat in the race for Smith Hill supremacy.

Once again, I reject this notion. Don’t get me wrong, Chafee’s withdrawal from the race does, in fact, benefit Taveras—there’s no doubting that. There’s little doubt that both Chafee and Taveras were going to battle for the hearts of public sector union leadership.

With Chafee’s exit, that isn’t the case. Now Taveras has a leg up with that particular special interest group. But to listen to some political observers, you would think whomever the unions want elected always carries the day. The unions themselves will be the first to tell you that that’s not the case.

And this notion that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo somehow isn’t a progressive is erroneous. Raimondo is solidly in favor of gay marriage, reproductive rights (abortion), and has consistently supported causes like Crossroads (a shelter for women) that benefit those who need help.

Remember the 2008 primary

In reality, this Democratic Primary is shaping up to look a lot like the Presidential Primary of 2008. I covered both rallies for Clinton and Obama respectively as a news writer, and they were both held at Rhode Island College in the field house.

At the Clinton rally, the field house was maybe half full—if that. There didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm. The field house had to be apportioned off to make it look fuller than it really was.

The Obama rally couldn’t have been more different. There was a line down the parking lot of people who wanted to get into the rally but couldn’t because the fire marshal was worried about the crowd size. People had to listen to Obama’s speech on loud speakers outside of the gymnasium.

I left the Obama rally convinced that he had the race in the bag. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Clinton didn’t just defeat Obama in Little Rhody. She destroyed him—taking the primary by more than 20 percentage points.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t take a Brookings Institute Scholar to see the resemblances between the Clinton vs. Obama primary and the likely Raimondo vs. Taveras Primary. There were some valuable lessons to be learned from the 08 primary—which were apparently lost on most. 

Valuable lessons

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First, although Obama had the more excited supporters, Clinton had more total supporters. Sure, they might not have felt like going to Rhode Island College for a rally, but they sure felt like voting. In this case, the union voters might be the most interested in voting against Raimondo due to her leadership on pension reform, but their votes still only count once.

Secondly, the first point is magnified because the race had a relatively high turnout—with almost 200,000 voters casting a ballot. Had there been a lower turnout in the race, Obama would’ve fared much better than he did, given his more enthusiastic support. The same holds true in what will likely be next year’s primary. I would argue that a higher turnout will benefit Raimondo—and I’m expecting just that.

Also, look to a divide in the race between the urban vote and the suburbs and smaller cities. In the 2008 Presidential Primary, Obama actually prevailed in Providence, albeit by a relatively small margin—roughly 1,000 votes. (Yes, I expect Taveras to prevail in Providence, but don’t be surprised it it’s close. Remember, he only captured the 2010 Primary with roughly 50 percent of the vote.)

But Clinton won everywhere else, and ran up her biggest margins in the suburbs. In Johnston, for instance, Clinton trounced Obama by a margin of 5029 to 1540. I can envision Raimondo also winning in the suburbs, as pension reform seems to be more popular there.

Women vote is crucial

Remember, women voters are a powerful voting bloc. I don’t have the data, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that Clinton also ran up impressive margins with women voters. Similarly, I remain convinced that women voters will be in no rush to vote against Raimondo. Also keep in mind that the last three contested primaries for Governor in Rhode Island were captured by Myrth Yorke—a woman. Let’s face it; it’s not easy to argue against people who believe the time is long past due for Rhode Island to have a woman as its chief executive.

While I remain perplexed by Raimondo’s investments in hedge funds and disgusted by her recent lack of transparency, I’m also hard pressed to imagine someone with better credentials. Raimondo is a LaSalle Academy valedictorian and also holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. She can also boast of a successful private sector career.

None of this is to say that Raimondo is a lock. Make no mistake about it: Taveras is a dynamic candidate with plenty of talent of his own and an inspiring story to tell. It’s inarguable that Providence is in better shape since he’s taken office. A year from now, he may very emerge victorious thanks to his leadership. But the evidence still leads me to believe Raimondo is a slight favorite at the moment.

In any event, one thing is for certain: the political climate in Rhode Island will be fascinating over the course of the next year. Some things never change



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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


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