The Patrick Lynch Campaign: A Post-Mortem

Saturday, July 17, 2010


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He came from a storied political family, became the second youngest person elected Attorney General in state history, and won liberal accolades by supporting gay marriage and taking on lead paint companies in a landmark lawsuit.

Patrick Lynch had the makings of a successful Democratic candidate for governor.

But this month he found himself trailing badly in the polls, lagging in fundraising, and snubbed by the leadership of the state party, which handed its endorsement to primary rival and General Treasurer Frank Caprio—the same state party that his older brother Bill Lynch had chaired for a dozen years.

What went wrong?

In interviews with GoLocalProv, political observers citied many of the more common explanations—an undisciplined campaign compared to Caprio, betting too much on the official Democratic Party endorsement, and unexpected issues that kept popping up, such as his connection to Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau, a friend who is under investigation by state police.

But beyond those factors, those observers said Lynch had a deeper problem: the fact that he was Attorney General.

“Running from Attorney General’s office is a very difficult office to move up from,” said Joseph Fleming, president of the political consulting firm Fleming & Associates.

In general, he said the office of Attorney General has not proven to be a good springboard for higher office.

Most recently, Sheldon Whitehouse ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002 while still serving as Attorney General—and ended up losing to primary opponent Myrth York. But then, four years later, he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate.

June Speakman, a professor of political science at Roger Williams University, agreed that Lynch's background as Attorney General hurt his run for governor.

Compared to General Treasurers, she said Attorneys General are confronted with more difficult and controversial issues during their tenure, tending to lower their public approval rating. “I think that the job of AG is inherently more controversial than that of General Treasurer,” Speakman said.

“No one ever pays attention to what the General Treasurer is doing, so he can write his own story, while the media writes the Attorney General’s story,” she added.

She also suspects that being Attorney General places more demand on the office-holder's schedule than it would for a General Treasurer, leaving less time for campaigning. “Running the AG's office and running for higher public office may be incompatible activities, while running the Treasurer’s office and running for higher public office may be an easier task to accomplish,” Speakman said.

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Station Nighclub Fire, Corruption Cases Didn’t Help

In Lynch’s case, a series of unforeseen events that occurred during his tenure as Attorney General compounded his difficulties.

Just six weeks after taking office, Lynch was confronted with the Station Nightclub disaster and was later criticized for not being aggressive enough in prosecuting those responsible, Speakman noted. “The public perception of him was shaped by the Station Nightclub fire and how he handled it,” she said.

In fact, one father of the victim had pledged to use a $500,000 civil settlement from the case to defeat Lynch in his run for governor.

Speakman said Lynch had also come under attack for how he handled major corruption and influence-peddling cases, like those involving Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and CVS. “In my view, that criticism was not always appropriate given the weakness of RI’s anti-corruption statutes,” Speakman said. “Many of those prosecuted by the feds were brought up on mail fraud charges, which are federal, not state, in nature.”

Some Praise for Lynch

But not everyone was quick to point out the failings of the Lynch campaign last week. Meghan Grady, president of the Rhode Island Young Democrats, praised Lynch and his staff for their commitment to the campaign.  

“Consistently, I’ve found the staff of the Lynch Campaign to be professional to work with and passionate about their candidate,” Grady said. “I haven’t been exposed to the day to day workings of the Lynch Campaign I know both Adam Roach and Aimee Audette from his staff personally and recognize that these two young Democrats who have worked extremely hard over the past few months on the Lynch Campaign for Governor.”

But Grady, who is also a member of the board of directors for the state party, ultimately endorsed Caprio at the convention last month. “I took time to get to know both candidates and was impressed by the organization of Treasurer Caprio’s campaign and his plan to bring new ideas and new jobs to Rhode Island’s economy,” she said.


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