Scott MacKay Commentary: Raimondo's Election Challenge

Mar 9, 2018

Credit Elisabeth Harrison / RIPR

The first public opinion poll of the 2018 Rhode Island campaign for governor shows a near dead heat between Republican Allan Fung and incumbent Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.  RIPR Political Analyst Scott MacKay parses the bad news for Raimondo.


Rhode Island’s first woman governor is facing headwinds as she ramps up her reelection drive. A WPRI television poll shows the governor in a statistical tie with the Republican front-runner, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung.

The survey done by longtime pollster Joe Fleming also showed the governor lacking support from the independents who often swing state elections. And there is a big gender gap, with men, particularly older men, giving Raimondo low ratings while women are more supportive.

Just thirty-four percent of men believe the state is moving in the right direction, (52 percent of men think the state is headed on the wrong track). Meanwhile,  44 percent of women say Rhode Island is moving in the right direction (38 percent of women said wrong direction.)

Raimondo’s job approval rating is lackluster for an incumbent blessed with an improving economy and low unemployment. Only 37 percent of respondents rate her favorably while 61 percent are unfavorable. A red flag is that 31 percent of voters say she is doing a poor job, while 10 percent say she is doing an excellent job.

The poll carries a sampling error margin of about five percent.

Rhode Island’s electorate is cranky and divided, a mirror of the national mood. Yet Raimondo still has work to do with Democrats; 62 percent of her own party voters support her, lower than it should be. (Is President Donald Trump loathed anywhere more than among Rhode Island women?  Eighteen percent of Ocean State women give the president a positive rating and 81 percent are negative.)

Another striking factor in the gubernatorial  campaign is the size the field. The parade is forming and it’s longer than those lining up for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s as if any pol not in rehab or under indictment is running for governor.

Matt Brown, of Providence is trying to jump-start a political career interrupted in 2006, when he aborted his campaign for U.S. Senate. Brown is running for governor as an independent. He was a capable secretary of state, but it has been a dozen years since he has done anything in Rhode Island.

Two Republicans, Fung, and House GOP leader Patricia Morgan, are competing for the nomination. Businessman Giovanni Feroce says he will also run in the primary. Also running as independents are former Republican State Rep. Joe Trillo, a player in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Luis-Daniel Munoz, a health care entrepreneur. The Moderate Party seeks an aspirant. Burrillville anti-power plant activist Paul Roselli says he’ll challenge Raimondo in a primary and former State Rep. Spencer Dickinson of South Kingstown says he will too. And we haven’t heard yet from former governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Warwick Democrat playing Hamlet on the Pawtuxet River. If he runs it will be a primary challenge to Raimondo.

A savvy Republican Party would shape a ticket with a better chance at victory. This would mean urging Morgan, who is bound to have trouble raising the mountain of cash needed for a governor’s race, to opt for lieutenant governor. This would clear Fung’s path to the nomination and save him money.

Fung’s tightrope is the usual GOP front-runner stance. He’s trying not to swerve too far right in a September primary dominated by conservatives that he can’t move to the center for the November final.  Such calculations have forever dominated electoral politics. As far back as 1960, Richard Nixon summed it up: “The far right kooks are just like the nuts on the left,” said Nixon. “They’re door-bell ringers and balloon blowers and they turn out to vote.”

So far, Fung has been in the political witness protection program, conspicuously avoiding pesky reporters and invoking his right to remain silent on such prickly issues as gun control and immigration. How long he can maintain this act is anybody’s guess. Voters don’t often appreciate a cipher.

Some argue that multi-candidate elections are good because they give voters a spectrum of choices. But there is a downside to allowing anyone with a pulse to run. The last two governors –Chafee and Raimondo—both won with less than 41 percent.  Maybe it’s time to tighten the requirements for competing for governor.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our “On Politics” Blog at RIPR.org