Will Latino Donors Help Level the Playing Field for Taveras?

Oct 1, 2013

Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has a potentially powerful message to use in seeking out of state contributions for his expected gubernatorial run next year: with the exception of former Florida governor Robert Martinez (who served from 1987-91), a Latino governor has never been elected east of the Mississippi.

Latinos have emerged as an increasingly powerful political bloc over the last decade, both in Rhode Island and in national politics. Not coincidentally, Taveras' out of town itinerary has taken him to Puerto Rico, among other destinations, and he hired the national Latino fundraising firm, Connectiva.

Peter Baptista, the head of Taveras' campaign organization, says Taveras is seeking support "from a broad range of communities including Latinos." Baptista goes on to note how Taveras -- if he beats expected Democratic rival Gina Raimondo in a primary next September and then wins the general election -- "would be the first Dominican-American governor and would also be the first Latino Governor in the Northeast. Of the three current Latino Governors, only one is a Democrat (Puerto Rico)."

Yet Raimondo, a former venture capitalist, is such a wildly successful fundraiser that she has already raised more than $2 million. Taveras trails behind with roughly $692,000. The mayor himself tacitly acknowledged in a RIPR interview earlier this year he's unlikely to catch up with Raimondo in the money race, asserting that having enough cash to compete is the important thing.

Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone story shows how opponents will lob the "Wall Street Democrat" tag against Raimond, and Taveras has stockpiled a bunch of seasoned campaign operatives. Yet the treasurer's overflowing war chest will allow her to burn cash with abandon, in an attempt to raise Taveras' negatives, while still being able to run a good campaign.

The possibility of Rhode Island electing the first Latino governor in the Northeast is gaining attention well outside of the state.

"Whenever there is a Latino candidate that's going to make a milestone run for office, that does attract national attention," says Arturo Vargas, president of the DC-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "It is an opportunity to make a national cause celebre of a campaign."

One disadvantage facing Latino candidates is the absence of a formal national fundraising network, such as EMILY's List, which works to gather money for pro-choice Democratic female candidates. (Kate Coyne-McCoy, a former regional director for EMILY's List, started the American LeadHERship super PAC to aid Raimondo's campaign.) Yet wealthy Latino donors bundled contributions for President Obama's re-election campaign last year, Vargas said, and Taveras could benefit from the same approach.

Rhode Island became a trend-setter when Juan Pichardo was elected as the first Dominican-American state senator in the US in 2002. Next year's gubernatorial race seems bound to be a barrier-breaker; Raimondo would be the state's first woman governor, and expected Republican candidate Allan Fung would be RI's first Asian governor.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, meanwhile, calls Taveras "another chapter in the political development of Latinos not just in Rhode Island and New England, but nationwide, where we're having successful Latino candidates be crossover candidates and being able to launch viable campaigns, where their success is going to rest upon the ability to attract non-Latino voters to their campaigns."