Voter Guide: 30 Things to Watch in Today’s Primary

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Primary Day is here and GoLocalProv breaks down 30 things to watch in the Congressional and local races throughout the day.

1) The consensus seems to be that in the 1st Congressional District, it isn’t a matter of whether incumbent Congressman David Cicilline wins, it’s a matter of whether he runs up the score on challenger Anthony Gemma. There are plenty of people who will stay home today but will still vote for the Democrat come November, but as that WPRI poll a few weeks ago suggested, more than half of Gemma’s supporters are likely to vote for Republican Brendan Doherty in the general election. If Gemma pulls more than 40 percent of the vote today, Cicilline’s path to victory in November becomes that much more difficult.

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2) For anyone who still questions whether House Speaker Gordon Fox is still the most powerful politician in the state, consider this: While a significant number of their colleagues have been in trouble with the law, the most vulnerable elected officials this year are probably Representatives Rene Menard (D-45) and Spencer Dickinson (D-35), two lawmakers who are mostly guilty of clashing with the Speaker.

3) Menard, a retired firefighter, finds himself in a position where despite having held office since 1988, he is essentially the outsider against Mia Ackerman, a popular Cumberland Councilwoman who benefits from a district that appears to have been redrawn simply to get rid of the incumbent. Still, Menard has survived difficult challenges in the past and now he has to hope that his decision to gamble and oppose pension reform will pay off today.

4) If you haven’t read the lengthy letter where Rep. Dickinson accuses House leadership of plotting to take him out through redistricting, you can do so by clicking here. Dickinson, who was carried to victory by the unions in 2010, has only strengthened his support among that group (as well as progressives) with a no vote on pension reform and his willingness to speak out against leadership. His opponent, Kathleen Fogarty, has the support of Fox and the pro-pension reform group EngageRI, which will make her awfully difficult to defeat. The winner takes on Republican James Haldeman, who state GOP chairman Mark Zaccaria has highlighted as one of the Party’s top legislative candidates this year.

5) Speaking of redistricting, the biggest winner of Congressman David Cicilline’s effort to pick up South Providence might be none other than Leo Medina, the incumbent State Rep. who is accused of stealing $28,000 in insurance money from a friend. Medina was able to unseat Joe Almeida in 2010 thanks to the increased Latino turnout for the Providence Mayor’s race and those monitoring this year’s rematch say he may benefit from a similar scenario if Cicilline can draw out the Latino vote today.

6) Marriage equality supporters have gone all-in on trying to unseat Senate Judiciary chairman Michael McCaffrey, but even if the impressive Laura Pisaturo does pull off the upset in District 29, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed may get the last laugh. That’s because Paiva-Weed can still promote vice chairman Paul Jabour, who is against gay marriage, to the top spot. Jabour has a challenge from pro-equality candidate Maura Kelly, but the marriage equality groups chose to stay away from that race.

7) While some may question whether same-sex marriage is an issue that can turn an election in communities outside of the East Side of Providence or Edgewood in Cranston, the marriage equality groups have played it smart by having their candidates not make gay marriage the center piece of their campaign. Fight Back Rhode Island, the spinoff of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), has also aligned itself closely with the unions, which has given a boost to several candidates.

8) The first election with Mayor Angel Taveras in office will show us how much sway one of the state’s most popular politicians actually has. Taveras has endorsed House candidates Joe Almeida, Libby Kimzey and Senate candidate Gayle Goldin and has campaigned with all three candidates. Over the weekend, Taveras supporters even organized a phone banking session for the three candidates.

9) The House District 8 race on Federal Hill is certainly a race to monitor throughout the day. Incumbent Mike Tarro has come on strong over the last week, but many believe the race is actually between former Council President John Lombardi and progressive Libby Kimzey. Lombardi is awfully popular on the Hill, which means Kimzey is going to have to hope for two things: 1) That Lombardi and Tarro can cancel one another out among the older Italian voters; 2) That she has successfully identified several hundred Latino voters to carry her to victory.

10) The most talked about race in the state is probably in Senate District 14, where incumbent Dan DaPonte takes on Rep. Roberto DaSilva. As chairman of Senate finance committee, DaPonte helped push through pension reform while DaSilva was one of the nay votes in the other chamber.

11) Another Senate race worth paying attention to is the District 3 tussle on the East Side. Retiring Senator Rhoda Perry has been accused of attempting to hand the seat off to Gayle Goldin (Goldin was endorsed even before Perry got out of the race) while education reformer Maryellen Butke has run a solid campaign as the outsider.

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12) The unions are always a major player in Rhode Island, but this year will be particularly interesting because they don’t exactly have a signature issue to hang their hats on. The teachers unions made noise by taking out several incumbents in 2010, but they were able to focus on the school funding formula during that election. It will be interesting to see whether they will have a similar impact this time around, particularly with many voters being in favor of pension reform.

13) A potential upset in the making: Pawtucket’s Carlos Tobon is believed to be closing in on longtime Rep. William San Bento, although it might be another two years before he finally unseats in the incumbent. In 2010, Tobon had more money and the support of then-Mayoral candidate Don Grebien. Now Mayor Grebien is backing San Bento.

14) Speaking of Pawtucket, look for school committee candidate Sandra Cano to become the first Latina elected official in the city’s history.

15) There aren’t many Republican races to watch today, but the House District 34 matchup between Stephen Tetzner and Chris Wilkens could be interesting. Tetzner has already spent more than $40,000 on the race as he focuses on Democrat Teresa Tanzi, but Wilkens is a three-term Narragansett Councilman who was the top vote getter among all Council members in 2008. In a primary that will have an extremely low turnout, Wilkens could pull off the upset.

16) Republican Congressional candidate Mike Riley will win today, but like Cicilline in the 1st District, he’s hoping to run up the score on his opponents. He says he’s willing to spend more than $1 million if he thinks he can defeat Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin. That quest begins today.

17) First-term Rep. Jay O’Grady has to overcome four serious opponents if he wants to retain his seat and that begins today with a primary challenge from John Barr. The winner will face Republican Matt Guerra and Independents Paul DiDomenico and Mary Ann Shallcross Smith in the general election.

18) Katherine Kazarian is the only woman in a four-way primary for House District 63 and has the support of House leadership. She’ll have a major challenge from the union-backed Charlie Tsonas, but many believe she has a solid chance to win today.

19) That explosive race in District 44 between incumbent Peter Petrarca and Greg Costantino has fizzled slightly as more and more insiders believe Petrarca will hold on, but don’t count Costantino out. Petrarca has high negatives throughout the district and even if he pulls it out, he may lose to Republican James Archer in November.

20) Down in Newport, the Speaker’s office is hoping for Marvin Abney to pull out a victory over for Senate Majority Leader Dave Carlin Jr. in House District 73. Carlin is pro-life and against gay marriage and will likely cause headaches for Fox if elected.

21) It’s worth paying attention to who will replace former House Minority Leader Bob Watson in District 30. Robert Bolton, Antonio Giarrusso and Emil Fachon are the three Republican candidates in what appears to be a wide open race.

22) Another potential upset on the horizon: Cranston's Peter Palumbo, a very conservative Democrat, has a difficult challenge against Michelle Bergin, a former Councilwoman who works for the Providence Housing Authority. Palumbo is another incumbent Speaker Fox wouldn’t mind not seeing on the floor come January.

23) With so much discussion around 38 Studios earlier this year, it will be interesting to see whether the “vote ‘em all out” mentality has momentum this year. Plenty of incumbents have primaries, but that attitude may carry more water in November when Republicans are involved.

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24) Cranston School committee member Frank Lombardi is probably the favorite to replace Senator Bea Lanzi in District 26, but progressives love Gene Dyszlewski to pull off what would be considered a mild upset. The Republican in this race, Sean Gately, is believed to have a legitimate chance to win in November.

25) Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has been called vulnerable her District 49 House race, but she faces two opponents (firefighter Michael Morin and Dr. Stuart Gitlow) and hopes they can cancel each other out. The question is whether either candidate has been able to convince voters that her decision to help kill the supplemental tax hike earlier this year will be devastating to the future of Woonsocket.

26) Republican Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt (District 32) was supposed to step aside, but chose to stay in the race and now has a challenger in the more conservative Sharon Gamba. Ehrhardt is a smart guy and a strong opposition voice on the House Floor, but there are plenty of Republicans who say Gamba is the clear favorite today.

27) Senator Michael Pinga was the surprise story of 2008 when he knocked off former Finance Chairman Stephen Alves, but now he’s got a union-backed challenger in Adam Satchell who is probably considered the favorite in this race. Satchell would be another pro-marriage equality voice in the Senate, which has to concern Senate President Paiva-Weed.

28) In the open District 65 House seat in East Providence, Gregg Amore is expected to defeat Tim Chapman and James Miller. Amore has the support of the unions and picked up the endorsement from Fight Back RI thanks to his support for marriage equality.

29) In House District 53, candidate Gus Uht has spent of $29,000 and has the endorsement of Planned Parenthood in his race against incumbent Karen MacBeth. Macbeth voted in favor of pension reform and is considered the favorite, but she hasn’t spent much money some and may be in some trouble today.

30) The Senate District 16 race between incumbent Elizabeth Crowley and Joe Moran III has been heated, but Crowley is believed to be the favorite. Still, Moran is a former Central Falls police chief and may still have the Chuck Moreau machine behind him. The winner takes on Moderate Party candidate Nick Gelfuso in November.


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


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