Moffitt struggles for Republican nomination
Providence, R.I. – Victor Moffitt is so busy he doesn't have much time for reporters. So Moffitt talked about his run for Governor in the car - as he shuttled between town halls to drop off signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Moffitt is definitely hands on. To get on the ballot, he gathered more than three hundred of the required one thousand signatures himself, and lists his personal cell phone number on the campaign website. Moffitt says his humble approach distinguishes him from the other candidates.
"I don't feel I'm entitled to the governor's seat, Frank Caprio probably does," Moffitt said. "And so does Linc Chaffee. I'm not entitled. I would be a very humble governor. I would work with the general assembly for the betterment of the people in this state, not for my personal ego."
Moffitt has another reason for his humble, grass roots approach: his campaign has very little money. His competitor in the Republican primary -- John Robitaille -- has about $87 thousand in his election fund. Moffitt says he has about $20 thousand. But he says he's running a more efficient campaign than Robitaille - with a volunteer staff that is entirely unpaid.
"I don't have to go out and hire press secretaries and field managers, so his 80,000 will be eliminated very quickly, whereas my 20,000 can be spent very frugally," he said.
Moffitt is so confident he'll win the primary, he's already looking ahead to the general election, when his opponents will include well-known and well-financed independent Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Frank Caprio, who has more than $1 million in his campaign fund. Moffitt says his nearly 40 years as an accountant and financial planner as well as his humble attitude will win voters over.
" When it gets down to the end, I think people are going to be so fed up with watching Frank Caprio's pretty face on TV, that when his commercials come on they're going to change the channel," said Moffitt, explaining that his lack of funds won't be such a liability.
Moffitt says his campaign will focus on cutting spending and bringing more jobs to the ocean state, but he's perhaps best known for his plan to build a world class aquarium somewhere in Rhode Island.
"This would impact the state budget positively," he said. "I mean we would be bringing in thousands of jobs with just the infrastructure alone that we'd be building."
Maureen Moakley is a professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. She says Rhode Island's failing economy needs more businesses in the ocean state, not nonprofits like Moffitt's proposed aquarium.
"I think it's a wonderful goal, but I would have two words to say about it, and that would be not now," she said. "With all the other problems that we have, I don't see this plan having any legs."
But Moffitt says the plan does have legs.
"Even though my opponents are trying to make fun of this project, the rank and file people I talk to love this idea, want to help the idea, and believe in me that this idea will go forward," he explained.
Moffitt served on the house finance committee from 2002 to 2008. He says that's why he's the candidate best qualified to reduce spending. He proposes a consolidation of Rhode Island's police, fire, and school districts as one way to reduce costs. That idea has been around for a long time, but has yet to move forward. The Republican leader of the house, State Representative Bob Watson, says consolidation might sound like a good idea, but history has shown it's politically perilous.
"It's ironic that former representative Nicholas Gorham is the gentlemen who articulated consolidation as something that needs to be addressed and promptly lost his seat over the very issue," he said.
Now, Republican Nicholas Gorham is endorsing Victor Moffitt because of his consolidation plan. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Carol Mumford is also supporting him. She says Rhode Islanders are ready to embrace consolidation -- particularly Moffitt's plan, which she says would save money and preserve town and village identities.
"You'll still have your little villages, but the contracts will be perhaps four teacher contracts, five different county contracts, for police and fire," she explained. "That's an excellent idea. While still letting people have their local identity."
Moffitt's third major campaign issue is to reduce the state sales tax from 7 percent to 5 percent. He says that would encourage more people to shop in Rhode Island and attract more businesses. He says it would also leave more money in people's pockets, which would stimulate the economy. He proposes to cut state spending by 5 percent a year - trimming the fat at state agencies like the Department of Transportation.
"A lot of people at DOT who work in the state garages, basically sit there half the day with nothing to do because a lot of the maintenance is farmed out to third party contractors who charge the state a lot more money for doing work on state trucks and vehicles where they could be done in house," he said Moakley is skeptical about any plan that involves cutting taxes.
"It might work except for the fact that we're just not in a position to sacrifice any more revenue," Moakley said. "We're already so far in the hole. I don't think this is a strategy that people are going to take seriously."
Moakley calls Moffitt's candidacy a long shot, at best. And in fact, the latest Rasmussen Poll suggests Moffitt has a lot of work to do. It found that if he makes it to the general election, he would lose badly to either Lincoln Chafee or Frank Caprio. Nevertheless, Moffitt exudes lots of confidence and appears to embrace his under-dog status.
"It's like the turtle and the hair," he said. "You know the story. You know, we're sort of like the turtle right now, we're a little behind, but when the rabbit takes his rest because he thinks he's so far ahead, we'll just pass him by.
Even so, Moffitt does have a back-up plan. He says on the off chance he loses the primary to John Robitaille, he'll run for Governor again in 2014. He says that will give him four years to raise the money he needs to win.