Rhode Island: Senate and Governors Bottom Lines

GOVERNOR

One of Republicans’ challenges in 2018 gubernatorial contests is that there are only nine Democratic-held seats up, providing them with few target opportunities to offset their own vulnerable seats. As a result, they are looking at races that might not seem like obvious targets. First-term Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s bid for a second term is one of them. Raimondo’s tenure hasn’t been free of controversy, but she also has accomplishments on which to run, including an improving economy. Progressives have been threatening to field a primary candidate to her left, and that challenge materialized in the form of former Secretary of State Matt Brown. Brown initially said he would run as an independent, but has changed course. There are also two minor candidates seeking the Democratic nomination: former state Rep. Spencer Dickinson and environmental activist Paul Roselli. A Democratic primary is a more challenging contest for Brown than an independent bid would be. Raimondo will have all the benefits of incumbency, including support from national Democrats, and has amassed a substantial war chest. Republicans are thrilled at this development because it will force Raimondo to spend time and resources fending off Brown instead of focusing on GOP frontrunner Allan Fung, the Mayor of Cranston and the 2014 gubernatorial nominee. At this point, there are three announced Republican candidates: Fung, state House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, and former state Rep. and former Alex & Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce. In addition to worrying about Democrats in the general election, the GOP nominee will face a threat from an independent candidate. Republican state Rep. Joe Trillo, a conservative who chaired Trump’s campaign in the state, will siphon votes from the Republican column. National Republicans have been attacking Raimondo’s record and will continue to do so – comparatively speaking, Rhode Island is a pretty inexpensive state – but Trillo’s presence does add some uncertainty to the race. It is worth watching developments here; the contest will stay in the Likely Democratic column for the time being.

SENATE

Democratic Sheldon Whitehouse has earned a reputation in the U.S. Senate as one of its more progressive members. He focuses on issues like climate change and “dark money” in politics, and he has been one of the chamber’s most vocal critics of the Trump Administration. These positions don’t put Whitehouse at odds with voters in this heavily Democratic state – unless they believe that he has lost touch with their more immediate needs and issues closer to home. So far, there hasn’t been any indication that is the case. That didn’t stop former U.S. Sen. and former Gov. Lincoln Chafee from announcing a primary challenge to Whitehouse. In some respects, the primary is a rematch of the 2006 Senate race when Whitehouse defeated then Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Chafee, 54 percent to 46 percent (and was then re-elected in 2012 with 65 percent). Chafee has undergone something of a transformation since that race. He became an independent in 2007, and was elected Governor as an independent in 2010. Chafee switched to the Democratic Party in 2013. Plagued by poor job approval numbers, Chafee did not seek a second term in 2014. In 2016, he was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, but withdrew before the first primary or caucus. What makes Chafee’s decision to primary Whitehouse so curious is that there are no signs that the incumbent is at all vulnerable to a primary; a February poll gave him solid job approval ratings among Democrats. However, Chafee can’t be ignored. He is personally wealthy and has demonstrated a willingness to spend that wealth on his campaigns. Two Republicans have announced their candidacies: former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Flanders and state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo. Flanders gets very strong reviews from political observers in the state, but either candidate would face a steep hill against Whitehouse. If Chafee were to score an unlikely upset, this seat would be in play. The contest is in the Solid Democrat column.