In the final throes of a primary

Posted 9/13/22

Editor’s Note: With the Cranston Herald going to press Tuesday evening, it was impossible for Ian Donnis to know the results. This column looks at many of the primary races and now that the …

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In the final throes of a primary


Editor’s Note: With the Cranston Herald going to press Tuesday evening, it was impossible for Ian Donnis to know the results. This column looks at many of the primary races and now that the results have been tallied you’ll be one up on this political junkie.



The top questions heading into Rhode Island’s primary election Tuesday include whether undecided voters will 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 goes after Foulkes in a new TV spot, buttressing the view that her support is 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 is 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 retains the 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 this 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 has made enough of an impression on voters and gotten an effective return on the $4 million-plus spent by her campaign will become clear Tuesday.


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.

politics, Donis


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