If a nationally prominent member of a political party comes to Rhode Island to support a particular candidate, the standard course would be for that candidate to shout about it from the rooftops. But …
If a nationally prominent member of a political party comes to Rhode Island to support a particular candidate, the standard course would be for that candidate to shout about it from the rooftops. But Allan Fung, the GOP candidate in CD2, maintained radio silence for more than 48 hours after U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California recently visited the Ocean State. It’s one thing if the team around Fung didn’t want to respond to questions from reporters after Punchbowl News broke the news a few weeks ago that McCarthy would be headed our way. But by simultaneously welcoming McCarthy’s fundraising power and trying to pretend nothing was happening (after McCarthy tweeted a pic of himself with Fung), Fung was trying to have it both ways.
That goes to the heart of the Democratic critique against the former Cranston mayor – that Fung, despite his vow to be an independent voice for Rhode Island, is aligned with national Republicans, and is trying to keep that connection under wraps. (Democratic frontrunner Seth Magaziner has also faced a question of fuzzy authenticity; a campaign commercial that appears to be set in his home was taped elsewhere, per Go Local Prov.)
With the Democratic primary fight still taking place, the national context looms as a big factor in the general election. Fung reminds voters at every turn about inflation and his reputation as an effective mayor in Cranston. At the same time, not just Democrats are upset about the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. And then there’s the question of how the series of probes involving former President Donald Trump, including documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago, will influence voters later this year. These factors help explain why what was initially seen as a foreboding political climate for congressional Democrats is now closer to being “politically neutral,” according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.
THE OUT OF TOWNERS: The chance of a Republican winning a congressional seat in a blue state like Rhode Island is an appealing story for out-of-town reporters and analysts. Writing in Roll Call, Nathan Gonzales notes how there are more competitive U.S. House races at this point in the election cycle (81) than the average going back to 1994 (72). In CD2, he writes: “[I]t’s certainly possible for a competitive race to take place in a district that isn’t technically a swing district. For example, Joe Biden would have won Rhode Island's 2nd District with 56 percent in 2020, yet it is a competitive race in 2022. A combination of the open seat, a uniquely strong GOP candidate in Allan Fung and the national political environment has created a competitive race in a seat that is not considered a swing district.” And although Democrats question whether Fung’s place amid the national GOP makes him a centrist, Politico’s Sarah Ferris asserts, “A Fung win in a district that Joe Biden carried by 13 points in 2020 would be the kind of electoral earthquake that could force national Democrats to reckon with glaring weaknesses that may go beyond a toxic midterm cycle.”
SOCCER STADIUM: For all the stylistic differences between the soft-spoken James Diossa and Stefan Pryor, his irrepressible Democratic primary rival for general treasurer, both men support the Pawtucket soccer stadium and the plan to revitalize the Superman Building in downtown Providence. Sports economists frown on the idea of economic development via soccer stadium, and WPRI’s Eli Sherman reported last week that the stadium will not generate enough revenue to pay for its debt. Nonetheless, Diossa and other supporters maintain the project will ultimately prove successful.
“This is a community that doesn’t see these types of investments happen every year or even 10 years,” Diossa, the former mayor of neighboring Central Falls, said on Political Roundtable this week. “I believe this investment in soccer, with the soccer stadium, especially with the World Cup on the horizon in 2026 and soccer being a big push by many as far as investments, I think it’s going to be very successful in Pawtucket,” particularly with plans for housing phase two.
Gov. Dan McKee remains a top booster of the soccer stadium, offering these comments (via news release) at the groundbreaking: “With strong taxpayer protections, this project is going to spur economic development and momentum in Pawtucket and across Rhode Island. The Tidewater Project will not only create jobs in the Blackstone Valley but it will also create a new destination for Rhode Island. I'm proud that we're breaking ground on the stadium …."
PRYOR NOTICE: Stefan Pryor, who had his own recent appearance on Political Roundtable, is getting set to launch his first campaign commercial, crafted by Tad Devine. The outcome of the Democratic campaign for treasurer remains anyone’s guess, with both candidates piling up endorsements. Pryor’s former boss, Gina Raimondo, is headlining an Aug. 24 fundraiser for Pryor, at the Bellini rooftop, with suggested contributions of $500 and $1,000.
Diossa: He picked up endorsements this week from the National Education Association Rhode Island and the RI Democratic Women’s Caucus. Diossa also has the backing of Gov. McKee and the RI Democratic Party, among other groups.
Pryor: He won the endorsement of the RI Brotherhood of Correctional Officers; Teamsters, Local 2521; and the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association – the group’s second-ever endorsement, according to Pryor’s campaign, after Raimondo in ’18.
THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR: Gov. Dan McKee released his second polished ad of the campaign, focusing on gun safety and abortion, while adding to his stack of union endorsements. The governor also continues to get a lot of attention in the course of his regular duties, including boosting housing production in the state …. Helena Buonanno Foulkes released a new ad, focused on her plan to reduce prescription drug costs.
Excerpt: “If enacted, the impact would be significant: one in ten Rhode Islanders currently has diabetes, and a staggering one in three are prediabetic. The financial impact of asthma on Rhode Islanders’ pockets and the state healthcare system is similarly staggering: more than 125,000 Rhode Islanders with asthma spend, on average, $529 a year as a result of hospitalizations, many of which could be prevented or severely reduced with regular medication.”
…. Nellie Gorbea won the endorsement of the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus
…. GOP candidate Ashley Kalus was taking what was expected to be a brief hiatus from campaigning after testing positive for COVID-19. The RI GOP, meanwhile, is training some of its fire on Foulkes.
COLLEGE & THE AMERICAN DREAM: Journalist Will Bunch talks with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air about how going to college has changed over time from a mode of upward mobility to an experience with crushing costs. Excerpt: “Several things happened at once. You know, as we discussed, I do feel part of it was the political backlash, that taxpayers were no longer interested in giving a blank check to public universities. And you've seen -- you know, in my home state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century, taxpayers paid 75% of the cost of public universities.
"Today, that number is only 25%. And the difference is made up in tuition that, you know, students and their families have to pay it. And in most cases, they have to borrow money to make it happen. This wasn't the only thing that was happening, though. Obviously, the economy began to change dramatically in the 1970s. You know, you had that period of stagflation and slowing job growth. And so this was also a reason for decreased government support.”
CAMPAIGN FINANCE: West Warwick native Paul Tencher has come a long way since he was portrayed by a child actor at the Providence Newspaper Guild Follies in 2007. That was a nod to his youthful appearance and how he was in his mid-20s when serving as chief of staff for then-Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts. He went on to run a winning U.S. Senate 2012 campaign for Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly (now U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.) Tencher later returned to Rhode Island and his latest gig, per Globe RI, involves helping to run Bright Future RI, an anti-Fung super PAC.
MARIJUANA: The vast majority – 31 of 39 Rhode Island communities – will ask voters this year to approve or reject the sale of recreational cannabis without their own city or town. My colleague Jeremy Bernfeld reports these are the communities that will have that question on the ballot: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, West Greenwich, West Warwick, and Woonsocket.
GATHERING: The Narragansett Indian Tribe’s 347th recorded annual August meeting and powwow – open to the public for the first time since the pandemic – took place weekend. As Chief Sachem Anthony Dean Stanton tells my colleague Alex Nunes, “Historically, this is our green corn festival. This is the moon of the green corn, sixth moon of the year. This is when our green corn is growing and everything is in abundance–we're going to have a harvest, usually the gardens will be growing, the hunting would be good, fishing would be good. Everything is at its peak right now for us. And just having family reunions and we organize and we talk to each other about what’s transpired over the past year or past several years, and it’s just a get together for us.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter@IanDon