Talking Politics

Election season reaches a milestone, as Primary Day passes

By Ian Donnis
Posted 9/12/22

Talking Politics


Editor’s note: This column was filed prior to Tuesday’s Primary Election.


STORY OF THE WEEK: The top questions heading into Rhode Island’s …

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Talking Politics

Election season reaches a milestone, as Primary Day passes


Talking Politics


Editor’s note: This column was filed prior to Tuesday’s Primary Election.


STORY OF THE WEEK: The top questions heading into Rhode Island’s primary election Tuesday were whether undecided voters would deliver a surprise, and how voters’ views have shifted in recent weeks. Gov. Dan McKee and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea traded narrow polling leads in the Democratic field for governor earlier this summer. Now, supporters of Helena Buonanno Foulkes believe she’s peaking at the right time, with good debate performances and an endorsement from The Boston Globe, the largest newspaper in New England.

McKee went after Foulkes in a new TV spot, buttressing the view that her support was climbing. More than one in five Rhode Island voters remained undecided when Channel 12 conducted its most recent poll in early August. And polling – especially in a primary – has gotten more difficult in the mobile phone age.

As my former colleague Scott MacKay likes to note, Democratic primaries in Rhode Island are often about the three Ls: liberals, Latinos and labor. This time around, those three blocs have not combined to coalesce around a single candidate.

Turnout was expected to be low – less than in contested Democratic primaries for governor in 2018 (128,095) and 2014 (117,875). There are a lot of different ways to slice that pie, and a better-than-expected performance by Matt Brown (who, like Luis Daniel Muñoz, has polled in single digits, 8% and 1% respectively, in the most recent survey) could affect the outcome.

With 20,000 ballots already cast through early voting, will some people regret making their choice based on what the landscape looked like a few weeks back?

McKee retainedthe advantages of incumbency, a base in the Blackstone Valley, and broad union support. The governor, who has shown a sensitivity to tough questions, kept his cool during the WPRI debate last week, although he steered clear of answering whether his administration has been subpoenaed in the ILO Group probe.

Back in 2014, Gorbea confounded conventional wisdom when she upset a better-funded primary rival. But she’s faced a string of adverse headlines about her campaign ads and the voting process in the state.

Critics view Foulkes’ corporate background warily. Yet as the only one of the four Democrats in the WPRI debate without previous elective experience, she fared best in answering a four-part pop quiz on aspects of the economy and state government. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared at Farm Fresh RI in Providence Sunday to boost Foukes.

Another supporter, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, has pledged the backing of his 60 precinct captains in the capital city. Whether Foulkes made enough of an impression on voters and got an effective return on the $4 million-plus spent by her campaign will be clear by the time readers see this column.


CITY HAUL: Elorza’s second term as mayor of Providence ends in January. For now, the former RWU Law professor tells me he’s not sure about his future plans.

“You know, I could go back to teaching at the law school,” Elorza said during our Political Roundtable interview. “And, you know, that’s appealing, because it gives me flexibility to do a lot of things and pursue different interests. But you know, I’m still – I feel young, I feel as though I have a lot of energy. And I’m ready to take on a new challenge and stretch myself in ways that I haven’t up to this point. So I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the next step is going to be.”

Here’s Elorza’s response to my question about what, if he had a do-over, he would have done differently while trying to improve Providence’s schools:

“[I]t doesn’t sit well with me that, you know, here we are, seven and a half years into my term. And frankly, I can’t say that the schools are any better than when I came in, and they’re not on track to get better going forward. So you know, what I have always done is, I’ve always pushed the envelope. And I said this almost four years ago, that we needed a transformational contract with the teachers. When we weren’t able to get that through negotiations, I brought the state in, had them take over the Providence schools because they had the power to reform that contract to get some transformational changes. Unfortunately, as we all know, that didn’t happen. But so... that doesn’t mean that we’ve thrown in the towel. I think that what we have to do is just think differently. If we can’t fix the system, we got to think about other alternatives out there. But one way or another, we have to ensure that we’re never complacent. And we never accept mediocrity or less than that in public schools. And that we always think creatively, right, there can be no sacred cows when it comes to the alternatives that are on the table for public education. And so, if I knew then what I know now, I would have absolutely, absolutely taken even a more aggressive approach to education. And frankly, I don’t think anyone has taken a more aggressive approach towards education than I have during my time.”


GENERAL ASSEMBLY: The most consequential legislative primary on Tuesday was RI Political Cooperative-backed Lenny Cioe’s challenge to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, the longest-serving lawmaker in Rhode Island. While Ruggerio supporters appeared confident, a victory by Cioe would force the election of a new Senate president.

The outcome of progressive challenges to such incumbent Democrats as Reps. Charlene Lima of Cranston, Camille Vella-Wilkinson of Warwick, and Anastasia Williams is also worth watching. A subtext is the relative success and legislative impact of the Co-op, which came on the scene in 2019.

Writing in The Nation, John Nichols asserted the group is “renewing electoral politics as a vehicle for transformative change.” However, critics – including longtime environmental party activist Greg Gerritt, who recently filed a state Board of Elections complaint against the RI Political Co-op – raise questions about the group’s fundraising, and whether it matches with the Co-op’s rhetoric.

Another progressive group, RI Working Families Party, is backing a slate of legislative candidates: Cherie Cruz, Giona Picheco, Kelsey Coletta, Victoria Gu, and Brandon Potter.


TREASURY: The job of general treasurer used to be more of a quiet backwater in Rhode Island politics. That changed when Frank Caprio, Gina Raimondo and Seth Magaziner each used the office as a launch pad for their higher ambitions. The current Democratic primary fight between former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and former state Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor has turned into the hardest-fought battle of the season, with both candidates aggressively challenging each other.

Voters will decide whether the irrepressible Pryor, who touts his resume and skill set, can overcome a late entry into the race, or whether they prefer the more unassuming Diossa, familiar from his time as mayor and well-liked within the Democratic Party. Republican challenger James Lathrop awaits the winner.


CD2: Democratic candidate David Segal reeled in an endorsement from lefty icon Bernie Sanders this week, while rivals Omar Bah, Joy Fox, and Sarah Morgenthau continue to hustle for votes – but the primary appears to be a prelude to a sharper general election showdown between Seth Magaziner and Republican Allan Fung.

Magaziner has maintained a big double-digit lead in polls. A large number of voters remain undecided, although the two-term Democratic general treasurer’s rivals haven’t made much of an effort to take him on (nonetheless, some anti-Magaziner mailers of unknown origin are making the rounds). If Magaziner prevails on Tuesday, the CD2 race will double as a proxy fight between national Democrats and Republicans, at a time when the national outlook for GOP gains in the U.S. House has taken more than a few hits.


GINAWORLD: Our former governor, Gina Raimondo, was the subject of a prominent story in The Wall Street Journal last week, headlined, “Commerce Secretary Embraces a Beefier Industrial Policy to Combat China and Russia” [subscription required]. During a White House press conference, Raimondo took a victory lap on the passage of the CHIPS Act. Excerpt:

“With this funding, we’re going to make sure that the United States is never again in a position where our national security interests are compromised or key industries are immobilized due to our inability to produce essential semiconductors here at home. This past year, we saw the impact of the chip shortage on American families when car prices drove a third of inflation because of lack of chips, factory workers were furloughed, household appliances were often unavailable, all because of a lack of semiconductors. And as our economy and military become more reliant on technology, it’s that much more essential that we develop a strategy with values, outcomes, and structures that enable us to plan for an economy and manufacturing infrastructure that positions us to compete today and into the future.”


MASSACHUSETTS: Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was first elected in the late 1990s, and he later emerged as a top Bay State supporter of Donald Trump. Now, Hodgson faces a November election challenge from Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, who won a three-way Democratic primary this week. My colleague Ben Berke made a smart point in analyzing the matchup:

“When Hodgson took office back in 1997, his tough-on-crime, you know, ‘make jail so miserable that you don’t want to come back’ philosophy was part of the zeitgeist in both political parties. But in the past 10 years or more, a lot of people have reconsidered their views on how we ought to treat people who get into trouble with the law. It’s possible that attitudes have changed enough in Bristol County to create an opening for a Democrat to challenge Hodgson from the left.”


MEDIA NOTES: Phil Marcelo, an alum of the ProJo’s Statehouse bureau, has shifted from a reporting job with AP Boston to a new post with AP New York debunking disinformation. … Speaking of AP, Providence correspondent Michelle Smith, who displayed an early interest in the story of Middletown native Mike Flynn, worked with Frontline in reporting on how Flynn is deeply involved in a new movement based on conspiracies and Christian nationalism.

… The Boston Globe, which introduced Globe RI a few years ago, helping to maintain a more robust journalistic landscape in Rhode Island, has made itself into a success story among American newspapers by creating a sustainable revenue stream. That’s why the retirement of the paper’s top editor, Brian McGrory – who will become chair of the journalism department at Boston University, my alma mater – is worth noting. In a memo to colleagues, McGrory wrote: “You’ve shifted our mindset from being the paper of record to the paper of interest. You’ve found that sweet spot between what readers want and what our community needs.”

What’s more, as Dan Kennedy reports, McGrory talked John and Linda Henry into buying the Globe (rather than letting the paper be sold to some chain).


CLIMATE CHANGE: The second flash flood in recent weeks made clear that aging infrastructure in such Northeast states as Rhode Island is no match for extreme weather events. I asked Mayor Elorza whether an aging city like Providence is ready for more of this in the future. The gist of his response:

“[I]t is something that the city is going to have to contend with. You know, we’ve done a lot of work, work on this during my time, but, you know, whoever the next mayor is, and certainly the next mayor after that, unless things change with climate, we got some really serious challenges to confront.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.