Ocean State: Your Rhode Island election primer


by John Perilli

The election has come! For all my Rhode Island readers, here is the final rundown for the Ocean State.

Congress and Senate

In the latest Congressional District 1 Poll, incumbent Democratic Congressman David Cicilline leads his Republican challenger Brendan Doherty by only one point. Some independent analysts have moved this race to a toss-up, but Cicilline will surely benefit from straight-ticket voters turning out for the President. Doherty will have to muster support from conservative strongholds like Cumberland, Burrillville, and Scituate to turn this seat red.

In the Second Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin is likely safe from Republican challenger Michael Riley, but independent environmentalist Abel Collins could steal some liberal votes and reach into the double digits. The result of this election will gauge how secure Langevin is as an incumbent and also whether or not he could be credibly challenged from the left in a 2014 primary. He is part of a small caucus of pro-life Democrats in Congress.

Concerning Rhode Island’s 2012 Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse has a comfortable lead over Republican businessman Barry Hinckley and is set to lock up his second term in Washington. Still, Rhode Island Republicans will be watching Hinckley closely: A strong showing could indicate he has a future in Rhode Island politics, especially with the statewide elections approaching in two years.

Ballot Initiative

The one ballot initiative worth keeping an eye on this year is Question 1, which will decide whether the Twin River Casino will be able to operate table games in Rhode Island. Proponents claim that it will create jobs, while opponents fear seediness and crime. In such a tough economic stretch, though, many voters will be looking for any boost the economy can get. Expect a close “yes” for this question.

5 General Assembly Races to Watch

House District 4 – Providence – East Side – Democratic Speaker of the House Gordon Fox is facing the heat over the 38 Studios debacle last legislative session. Independent challenger Mark Binder has made it a centerpiece of his campaign, and with Fox’s statewide approval rating at around 19 percent, Binder will have many sympathizers. Fox, though, is still popular with the Rhode Island political establishment, holds over $230,000 in his campaign chest, and has a strong base of support in his district. The Speaker is likely safe, but Binder’s campaign will resonate with many who are on the fence about Fox.

House District 31 – North Kingstown – Republican incumbent Doreen Costa was swept into office in 2010 along with countless other conservatives nationwide, but now she faces a presidential election year. Democrats have rallied behind Steve Campo, seeing a chance to turn this volatile swing district blue. Will Costa’s solid core of support be enough to put her over the top?

Senate District 19 – Cumberland and Lincoln – Republican incumbent Beth Moura is in for a nail-biter of a rematch against Democrat Ryan Pearson, whom she beat by only 3 percentage points in 2010. Pearson’s preferred line of attack has been Moura’s attendance record — she missed over 300 votes this past term — but Moura, like Doreen Costa, has a dependable bloc of support in a conservative-leaning district. Independent Steven Orsini could be a strong spoiler, but expect this race to be a toss-up between the two major parties.

Senate District 21 – Scituate, Coventry, and Foster – This is a fickle district. Democratic challenger Scott Pollard found this out the hard way in 2010, when he was surprisingly ousted from his seat in the House of Representatives. But now he’s back to run for Senate, boasting a blazing ground game and backed by a president on the ticket. Can he get out enough votes to pick off incumbent Republican youngster and Tea Party favorite Nick Kettle?

Senate District 27 – Cranston – Democrat Hanna Gallo is by no means a weak incumbent. Her vote for pension reform will not hurt her too badly, and she has avoided scandal. But she faces a serious challenge from independent Aram Garabedian, the popular and well-recognized co-owner of the Warwick Mall who has deep campaign experience. Expect Republican Bob Lancia to play spoiler in this race. Can Hanna Gallo turn out enough unaffiliated voters to defend her seat?

Democrats are sure to hold both houses of the General Assembly, but after the 38 Studios scandal and pension reform, they will be looking for a resounding affirmation of their leadership.

As a personal appeal: Please go out and vote today! If you aren’t convinced that a single vote can decide an election, then you need to see this. I will be posting a special segment later this week on the results.


Photo of the Rhode Island State House by Will Hart: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cthulhuwho1/3830042411/