Kathryn McDaniel voted on Tuesday, 28 days before the Democratic primary that will decide whether Clay Pell will be the party’s nominee for governor.
McDaniel, who graduated from Cranston High School East and is now a student at the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., is a Pell volunteer. She has spent her summer working both for Pell and as paid intern on Frank Caprio’s campaign to recapture the state treasurer’s job he left in 2010 to run for governor.
McDaniel, who has worked the phone banks and gone door-to-door for Pell, points to a fundamental difference between the two candidates. She says people know the Pell name but not the man, whereas most of the people she encounters have met or claim to personally know Caprio. In the Caprio office, she’s accustomed to callers telling her what to do. In the Pell office, she is telling people to get out the word on Pell.
McDaniel was one of 101 people to turn out for Pell’s latest “town meeting” held Monday at the Portuguese American Club. It was the 10th such event, and like one held about a month ago at the American Legion Shields Post in Warwick, it followed a script in which a member of the audience gave a testimonial followed by Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, Pell’s wife, introducing the “love of her life.”
The evening, which lasts barely an hour, ends with questions from the audience and a no-nonsense pitch from campaign manager Devin Driscoll for volunteers. Pell staff members were armed with clipboards to sign people up for telephone shifts.
In a tender moment that brought applause, Pell joined Kwan and declared, “You are the love of my life and my best friend.” He said the same thing, word for word, in Warwick. And he used the same reasoning that as a Coast Guard prosecutor dealing with members of the Marine Corps, he is well trained to cope with members of the General Assembly.
If there’s a difference between the Pell who spoke in Warwick and the one who spoke in Cranston, it didn’t show.
His message, whether about his plan for education, the economy or the need to change government, was consistent. So was his delivery, which was smooth and measured. He didn’t reference his grandfather, the late Sen. Claiborne Pell, as frequently, and he spent more time on the importance of funding education – and, in particular, state institutions of higher learning, so as to reduce dependency on student loans.
He said Rhode Island students are carrying the fifth-highest level of debt in the country.
And he reiterated themes that people’s dreams for the future are important and that new leadership can make a difference.
He said it would take volunteers and people to “reclaim our government.”
“We have less than a month of knocking on doors and bringing more people into this process,” he said.
He spoke also of rebuilding the state’s infrastructure, including its ports, so as to compete in the global economy. Pell fielded about a half-dozen questions, saying in response to how he would fund infrastructure improvements that a plan is needed and he would support $200 million in road bonds that would be issued over two cycles. He said the state could afford the interest payments.
“We have to do it, we have to get started,” he said.
Pell opposes high stakes testing, not because he doesn’t believe in academic rigor, but because he favors programs that encourage critical thinking. He favors pre-K programs and all-day kindergarten, and opposes reductions in school funding for the arts and sports.
He said we should “not crowd out life learning experiences.”
Pell also touched on state aid to cities and towns, saying he would increase it so as to reduce the impact on local property taxes.
“But it comes with a hook,” he added, saying he would require municipalities to adopt more universal codes to make the state more business friendly.
But there was a difference between the two presentations apart from the urgency that the Sept. 9 primary is fast approaching. It was in the Pell volunteers and his staff.
They were excited.
Driscoll wouldn’t share Pell’s latest campaign poll – “I’m not going to get into that,” he said. But he’s optimistic.
It’s no wonder the Pell message is getting out. The campaign has 26 field organizers under the direction of four regional directors, plus a headquarters staff of 10 for a total of 40. That’s not counting about 70 volunteers who man phone banks Monday through Friday and then turn to door-to-door canvassing on the weekends.
“That’s an investment to build a strong grassroots campaign,” Driscoll said.
The word about Monday’s town meeting got out through calls and invitations from volunteers. There promises to be a lot more calls and another six “town meetings.” The Johnston one is Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. at Democratic headquarters, located at 1351 Hartford Ave.
Pell is not expected to stray from his message and, in fact, there are likely to be some more word-for-word stories and exchanges with Kwan.
In Driscoll’s words, when you have something that works, you don’t change it. Sept. 9 will be the test.