Ocean State: A preview of the 2014 Governor’s race

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by John Perilli

It is an early hour to be calling who’s going to be facing off against whom in the 2014 statewide races, but candidates across Rhode Island are already jostling for position. In no race is this more evident than the Governor’s race, which promises to be another three-way battle royal like it was in 2010. Independent Lincoln Chafee has strongly indicated that he intends to run for reelection, but only 18 percent say that they would definitely vote for him again. Democratic and Republican operatives, sensing weakness, are already plotting his defeat, and it will be a difficult battle for Chafee to win a second term.

Here’s who might make a run for Governor in 2014:

Democrats

Angel Taveras – Providence’s first Latino mayor boasts a remarkable 65 percent approval rating statewide by the latest polls. He has never shied away from speaking honestly about Providence’s financial problems, and his handling of the city’s pension crisis was a political masterstroke. The only thing standing between him and a shot at the governorship is a competitive primary, where he will have to persuade Democratic insiders to choose him over Treasurer Gina Raimondo or Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts. His other option is to sail into a second term as mayor and wait until 2018 to run for Governor, but he might be better off striking while the iron is hot.

Gina Raimondo – The General Treasurer is another popular figure in Rhode Island, but pension reform made her some powerful enemies. Unions and state retirees will use all their resources against her, and some Democrats might balk at her acceptance of an award last year from the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank. However, Raimondo is easily the best-financed candidate in the race, with over a million dollars in her war chest, giving her the ability to drown out competitors early on. Whether she can similarly bludgeon Democratic elites into submission remains to be seen.

Elizabeth Roberts – Lieutenant Governor Roberts is term-limited in 2014, and barring any possible appointments or retirements, she has nowhere to go but the Governor’s office. Outshining Taveras and Raimondo will be an unenviable task, but she has a solid base of progressive support and strong name recognition. Additionally, she will be in charge of implementing Obamacare next year, and a smooth transition to the new system will no doubt win her accolades and praise. With a clean record and a relatable public style, expect her to be a strong candidate.

Ernie Almonte – The accounting wizard and former Auditor General has already filed his candidacy for Governor and started campaigning, but he will struggle with name recognition and insider support. He can only win if he runs a fault-free campaign and earns enough financial backing to get some influential Democrats on his side. Otherwise, expect his campaign to fizzle like a publicity stunt. Many political observers think that General Treasurer might be a better job for him in two years, so that he has time to build his brand and master the political game.

Independents

Lincoln Chafee (Incumbent) – Since Chafee took office in 2010, Rhode Island’s economy has shown tentative signs of a turnaround, and unemployment has dropped to 10.5 percent. However, as mentioned above, Chafee is still persistently unpopular. He managed to avoid most of the blame for the 38 Studios affair last May, but his personal style is aloof and he lacks the support of a major party organization. To win reelection, he will need to run against a Democrat weakened by a primary conflict and a Republican who is strong but not overpowering. Along with this, he will need to use the next two years to improve his ratings as much as possible, and hope that Rhode Island rebounds.

Vincent “Buddy” Cianci – Never count Buddy out. Despite being removed from the Mayor’s office in Providence twice and receiving a stint in federal prison, the “Prince of Providence” has bounced back and remains surprisingly popular in Rhode Island. His brand is only growing, aided by a radio talk show, his own line of gravy, and now an autobiography. While Cianci, if he runs for anything, might set his sights on Providence again, he has run for Governor before and could potentially create a bloody four-way contest for the top job.

Republicans

John Robitaille – Portsmouth businessman John Robitaille only lost to Chafee by three points in 2010, and now that Chafee’s popularity has sunk, it seems only logical for him to run again. He will have a strong base of support among Republicans and center-right independents, and could benefit from Chafee and the eventual Democratic candidate splitting the liberal vote. Midterm elections usually favor the party out of power, so expect the Rhode Island GOP to support a dependable candidate like Robitaille rather than a longshot in 2014.

Brendan Doherty – The former Colonel of the State Police gave Democratic Congressman David Cicilline a serious challenge this past election, so look for the Rhode Island GOP to tap his potential again in 2014. The First Congressional is by and large the more liberal of Rhode Island’s two districts, and pulling 40% of the vote out of it in a Presidential election year is no small achievement. With the conservative Second District behind him along with a backlash of Republican voters, Doherty should be a formidable contender in two years.

Allan Fung – The popular Mayor of Cranston comes with two Republican badges of honor: wide support in an otherwise staunchly Democratic city, and a track record of business growth. Name recognition might be a problem, but his fundraising potential is unquestionable and his status as a Smith Hill outsider could appeal to crucial unaffiliated voters. Look for him to start gathering supporters soon for a run at a higher office in 2014, and the Governorship is by no means out of the question.

The field in 2014 will doubtless be crowded, and many viable challengers will have to be winnowed down to two spots – the Democratic and the Republican nominees. Whether one of them can unseat Chafee will depend on how the governor deals with his unpopularity in the next two years, as well as how strongly Rhode Island rebounds from one of the most torturous recessions in its history. If the economy recovers, and Chafee avoids any crippling scandals, he could win a second term. If not, we may have a new Governor in 2014.

 

photo of Governor Lincoln Chafee by Jef Nickerson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/woneffe/5320777915/