As election showdown nears; good news for Fung, bad for Kalus

Posted 10/11/22


CD2 Republican Allan Fung is projecting a sunny disposition in ads and media appearances while making his case in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District. This serves …

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As election showdown nears; good news for Fung, bad for Kalus



CD2 Republican Allan Fung is projecting a sunny disposition in ads and media appearances while making his case in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District. This serves a twofold purpose: 1) it builds on Fung’s acknowledged likeability as the former 12-year mayor of Cranston; and 2) it aims to inoculate him from the boogeyman represented by D.C. Republicans. So far, the approach is working – polls by WPRI/RWU and the Boston Globe/Suffolk University respectively show Fung with a six-point and eight-point lead over Democrat Seth Magaziner (with a 6.2 and a 5 percentage point margin of error) and one in four Democrats are supporting Fung. Magaziner’s campaign says its tracking shows a smaller gap in the race, with voters most concerned about abortion and Social Security. So far, though, a visit to RI by Kevin McCarthy, a flotilla of Democratic ads about abortion and Jan. 6, and Fung’s go-soft approach on outrageous statements by Donald Trump do not appear to have changed the landscape. After losses while running for governor in 2014 and 2018, Fung must be feeling good about his chance of scoring a rare GOP win for a federal office in Rhode Island. (That would be ironic, given how Fung became a Republican years ago after finding a less-than-welcoming reception among Cranston Democrats). It was that prospect of CD2 flipping that alarmed RI’s congressional delegation and sparked Magaziner’s entry in the CD2 race, after running for governor, back in January.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is stepping up his support, with the state’s congressional delegation hosting a fundraiser last week for Magaziner on the rooftop of Joe Paolino’s Bellini in Providence. And Democrats have to take solace from how analysts like the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman still rate the race as a tossup. “For Fung, getting 46% to ~49% he needs to win is going to be really tough in a Biden +14 seat,” Wasserman tweeted after the WPRI poll. Fung has to hope the outcome is an inverse of the 2006 U.S. Senate battle between then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, when George W. Bush’s unpopularity overrode Chafee’s high approval rating. The Fung-Magaziner showdown was always expected to be close – and the weeks until Nov. 8 will be a dogfight. The two candidates are set to go head-to-head in a series of upcoming debates, and their performances – as well as which candidate best speaks to the economic concerns of voters – could decide the outcome.


The bad news for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus is that she faces a 13-point gap in her challenge to Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, according to WPRI. The Globe poll has her 10 points down. The good news for Kalus is that she has a solid lead over McKee among independents – the biggest bloc of voters in Rhode Island – and upcoming debates will give her the chance to hammer McKee


Former Rhode Island House Speaker Matthew J. Smith, an ardent Democrat, is firmly behind the GOP candidate for governor, he tells me, due to her pro-life stance. “I’m pro-life, I always have been,” said Smith, who served as speaker for a big chunk of the 1980s. Smith said he was impressed by Kalus’ knowledge, her grasp of government and her willingness to take on a difficult race. The former speaker declined to speak for his son, Matthew B. Smith, a legal counsel for the state Department of Administration who serves as chief municipal judge in Cranston, although the younger Smith (who could not be reached for comment) is also said to be supporting Kalus.


The new body that will set the regulations for legalized cannabis and decide who gets 24 social equity licenses has yet to take shape, more than four months after the legalization of recreational cannabis. The law called for Gov. Dan McKee to appoint the three members of the Cannabis Control Commission by July 4, 40 days after the law’s effective date of May 25. In a July 21 letter to McKee, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi suggested three nominees: former Rep. Robert Jacquard, Stephen M. McCartney, and Rachel Russell. The governor can accept the suggestions or make his own choices; they are subject to Senate confirmation. McKee communications director Andrea Palagi tells me the delay in making the appointments is due to how the General Assembly is on recess: “The governor’s three appointments to this commission are subject to advice and consent of the Senate and the Governor intends to submit names to the Senate at the beginning of the next session so they can move through the A&C process promptly thereafter.”


Welcome to a new regular feature in my column – a handful of local political observers sharing their insights and views on the news of the week.


With campaign season in high gear, it is a good time to visit RI’s ancient campaign finance laws, which set limits back in 1992 on how

much candidates could raise from individuals at $1,000 per year – those amounts have not changed since. If the limit kept pace with inflation it would be roughly $2,500 per year. Campaigns have become much more expensive due to the explosion of media advertising opportunities and expensive data analytics, among other things. Thirty-four states set campaign finance limits based on the election cycle, rather than annually – which removes the built-in advantage RI’s campaign finance laws give to incumbents, who can and do raise money each year. If we want to remove the influence of money given by outside organizations (and we should), we need to make it easier for statewide candidates to raise the money they need to run an effective campaign.

politics, op-ed