Bad blood and juicy subplots have roiled the governor’s race, as Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo faces challenges from Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, independents Joe Trillo and Luis-Daniel Munoz, Moderate Party candidate William Gilbert and the Compassion Party’s Anne Armstrong.
Familiarity bred contempt among Rhode Island’s candidates for governor this year, with old rivalries fueling a turbulent campaign full of personal attacks and political baggage dragged into 2018 from battles past.
Ill will between incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo and Republican challenger Allan Fung from their race four years ago was amplified by the tough talk of former lawmaker and Donald Trump state campaign chairman Joe Trillo, whose independent campaign created a schism in the state GOP while dredging up a stream of colorful incidents.
Raimondo was pushed to defend launching a non-functional public assistance computer system and cutting public-worker pensions as treasurer.
Fung was asked to answer for scandal in the Cranston Police Department and for wearing a Donald Trump hat.
Trillo was questioned about his temperament, about running his yacht aground while campaigning this summer, about once slapping a fellow GOP lawmaker in an argument over boat toilet legislation and whacking a 12-year-old future House speaker on the head with a caulking gun in 1975.
All the while, three lower-profile third-party candidates — Moderate William Gilbert, independent Luis-Daniel Munoz and the Compassion Party’s Anne Armstrong — popped in and out of the spotlight. Armstrong finished the final month of the campaign out on bail facing drug charges.
And yet for all the “only in Rhode Island” subplots and October surprises, the campaign enters its final full week roughly where pundits pegged it last fall, with Raimondo ahead in the polls and enjoying the tailwinds of a good economy, a bulging campaign war chest and an unpopular president from the other party. Less than three weeks before Election Day, the Republican Governors Association pulled its advertising support for Fung.
Voters are familiar with these candidates. Both Raimondo and Fung emerged from bitter primaries and have run multiple statewide campaigns. Trillo spent 16 years as an outsized personality in the General Assembly.
But despite all the ramped-up interest in politics nationally, it’s unclear whether Rhode Islanders tuned in to the race for governor and whether turnout will exceed the totals four years ago.
In that election, Raimondo beat Fung 41 percent to 36 percent, while 21 percent of voters waved off both major parties in favor of Moderate Bob Healey.
If Healey’s support was a protest against Raimondo, the presence of former Republican Trillo on the ballot next to GOP nominee Fung threatens to split conservatives and the anti-Raimondo vote this time around.
Indeed, in three public polls released since the primaries, Fung has yet to break the 36-percent mark he posted in 2014, while Raimondo has come in at 40 percent, 43 percent and 48 percent, showing the first signs of positive movement among the front-runners. The polls placed Trillo at anywhere from 5 percent to 17 percent, with the other candidates picking up negligible totals.
“All indicators are Raimondo is ripe for reelection. The economic indicators work to her benefit, and there’s a split in the Republican ranks,” said Joe Cammarano, associate professor of political science at Providence College. “It would be more competitive if Trillo was not in the race, but Fung seems to have, for whatever reason, failed to resonate with a broad spectrum of Rhode Islanders.”
While Raimondo has campaigned with Democratic bright lights such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Fung has had to dance around his support for Trump and, barring a late surprise, has not been able to land the endorsement of popular Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University, said she gives Raimondo the edge, but narrowly, with Trillo likely to be a significant factor. She said Fung hurt his own cause by keeping a relatively low profile during the winter and spring, when he largely avoided the press and fellow GOP primary opponents.
“People who thought there was a chance to beat [Raimondo] are more discouraged than they were a couple weeks ago and are going to be angry at Fung,” she said. “My guess is Trillo does better than some expect with the protest vote.”
On a gray October day, Fung greeted a dozen voters eating lunch and pound cake at the Cumberland Senior Center.
“You look even younger in person,” Alice Martin, 92, told the Cranston mayor as he discussed his childhood working in his family’s restaurant and asked the group if there are any issues they want the next governor to tackle.
Making sure the Senior Center van is on time topped the list.
Then Jo-Ann Francis, 63, drew Fung’s attention.
“What’s going to happen with the UHIP program?” Francis asked about the state’s troublesome public-assistance computer system, which Raimondo admits was launched before it was ready.
“That’s one that has personally impacted my family,” Fung told Francis, sliding comfortably into a thread of his campaign pitch. “My dad … we had to put him in a long-term-care facility, and they lost his application not once but twice. … That is what is wrong. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Francis said she had been planning to vote for Raimondo, but is not certain now after having to argue with state Health and Human Services staff to get health insurance coverage because of UHIP glitches.
Although the candidates have opined on issues from immigration to education to trash cans at the beach, the contest has orbited around the conflicting assessments of how Rhode Island has fared under Raimondo over the last four years.
Her platform, built around a pledge to “keep going” and expand current initiatives — such as the free state college tuition program and public pre-kindergarten classes — instead of promising any new policies or programs, has contributed to that dynamic.
Raimondo points to measures of economic improvement over her tenure — top national 2017 wage growth, 3.9-percent unemployment — as proof that her plan is working.
Fung and Trillo counter with other stats — an unemployment rate 0.2 points higher than the national average and 0.4 percent above the rate in Massachusetts — where Rhode Island is still behind its neighbors.
Fung has campaigned on making the state more like Cranston, a message that may play better in his hometown than elsewhere.
Lines of smiling school children gazed up the steps of Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Pawtucket last week as Raimondo, Democratic Mayor Donald Grebien and school officials gathered to celebrate the school’s $13.7-million renovation and ask the students to tell their parents to vote — for a $250-million school construction bond.
Official events like these, where school leaders extolled Grebien and Raimondo to students, are what the incumbency advantage is made of.
Along with economic development, Raimondo has made education a central pillar of her campaign, buttressed by having the school construction referendum — predictably popular in the polls — on the ballot.
“Vote Yes on [Question] One. Vote Yes on One,” Raimondo led the children in a chant.
She did another school construction event in North Providence the following day.
Many issues have slipped in and out of the campaign spotlight, but only the economy has been a constant over the full year of politicking.
Fung and Trillo promise big tax cuts (sales tax, estate tax) but use a broad brush to describe how they would pay for them or get them through the Democrat-controlled legislature. Raimondo has tried to divert the tax question to Cranston property-tax increases.
Raimondo’s positioning and the mostly good economic climate have forced Trillo and Fung to attack her from odd angles.
They’ve hit her for cutting retiree pension cost-of-living hikes when she was general treasurer, even though Trillo voted for the 2011 pension overhaul bill when it passed the House, and Fung has broadly supported reducing public pension costs.
They’ve also tacked left to hit her on ducking questions about the proposed Invenergy power plant in Burrillville, which both Trillo and Fung oppose on local-control grounds.
On health care, Fung has dodged efforts by Raimondo to link him to efforts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saying that, if elected, he supports keeping the status quo. He would institute stricter work requirements for food stamps and cash assistance.
That’s left the Republican embrace of “law and order,” linking crime to immigration, as the other recurring policy debate.
Trillo and Fung have attacked the Raimondo administration’s hands-off approach to federal immigration enforcement and said they would have state police and prison officials collaborate with ICE to deport felons.
This helped earn Fung an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.
“These are my people,” Trillo said as the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast broke up at a country club in Lincoln.
The business community is receptive to Trillo’s message of reducing regulations and corporate costs, but that might not help him get their vote from Raimondo, who’s been a favorite of the chamber of commerce set since she emerged from the venture capital world to become state treasurer.
“One thing that is important for business is continuity; having the same team in place would be nice,” said Ralph Coppola, a corporate benefits consultant and chair of the New England Business Association, at the chamber event. He expressed wariness of Raimondo’s opponents gutting her economic incentives and firing everyone at the Commerce Corporation.
If Raimondo wins by a larger margin than in 2014, Cammarano said it could give her a stronger position over state government (depending on if there is a new House speaker) and make her an “attractive center-left figure” for national office in 2022.
If she loses?
“If Raimondo loses, that would indicate a much stronger Republican Party in Rhode Island and would shed even more doubt about the credibility of polling to predict electoral outcomes,” Schiller said.
Residence: West Greenwich
Occupation: Deaconess of The Healing Church
Previous political office: None
Education: University of Rhode Island, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree
Family: Married with seven children
Occupation: Cranston mayor
Previous political office: Cranston City Council member
Education: Rhode Island College, bachelor’s degree; Suffolk University Law School, law degree
Residence: North Kingstown
Occupation: Manager for General Dynamics – Electric Boat
Previous political office: None
Education: Western Governors University, bachelor’s degree
Family: One child, three stepchildren
Residence: East Greenwich
Previous political office: None
Education: Rhode Island College, bachelor’s degree; University of Connecticut Medical School, medical degree
Family: Married with one child
Previous political office: General treasurer
Education: Harvard University, bachelor’s degree; Yale Law School, law degree
Family: Married with two children
Previous political office: State representative
Education: Attended Emerson College
Family: Married, two children
Published at Sun, 28 Oct 2018 05:46:44 +0000