Indeed, Patrick Crowley, the government relations director for the National Education Association — Rhode Island teachers union, suggests that Chafee is "in the catbird's seat" when it comes to winning over labor.
The governor has appeared more flexible than Raimondo or legislative leaders about revisiting pension reform. And in the coming months, the Chafee Administration will negotiate a couple of key state employee contracts.
Don't expect Chafee to lard up the contracts with all kinds of goodies meant to curry favor. The governor, if nothing else, has proven himself above pandering. But the payoff for a repaired relationship — however achieved — could be significant.
Chafee, a moderate Republican-turned-independent, suggested in a recent interview with the Associated Press that he might complete his metamorphosis and run for re-election as a Democrat.
That could result in a three- or four-way Democratic primary battle with Raimondo, Taveras, and former Auditor General Ernest Almonte. And with operatives anticipating a turnout of some 125,000 votes, labor's ground game could be a big help in getting to a relatively small win total of, say, 40,000.
THE CONTENDERS Chafee.
For Chafee, running as a Democrat would have its advantages.
A September poll commissioned by WPRI-TV showed the governor with a dismal job approval rating — just 29 percent of voters said he was doing a "good" or "excellent" job. But he was doing far better among Democrats (43 percent) than among independents (22 percent) or Republicans (12 percent).
Still, joining the Democratic Party would mean running in two bruising races — the primary and general elections — instead of just one.
And while the liberal environs of the Democratic primary might provide Chafee with his best opportunity to knock off Raimondo — who is more popular with Republicans than Democrats, according to the WPRI poll — they might not serve him so well in a fight with Taveras.
Indeed, if Taveras should run — and he's not expected to make a decision until late next year — he's got a quite credible path to the Democratic nomination. He should do very well among Latinos, of course. And if it's just Taveras and Raimondo, the mayor should have the edge with labor as well.
The WPRI poll shows both figures faring well in union households. But labor leaders appear dead-set against Raimondo after pension reform and can be expected to work hard for her defeat.
Chafee, of course, would provide a more formidable challenge for union support. But Taveras's collaborative approach to solving the city's pension crisis — negotiating with labor, rather than pushing pension reform through — has won notice.
And union leaders look favorably on Taveras's recent acknowledgment, in a speech before the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, that he might have handled the firing of Providence teachers better.
Taveras, whose staff includes progressive stalwarts like Matt Jerzyk, Peter Asen, and Sheila Dormody, also has some purchase on ideological liberals — particularly in a head-to-head contest with Raimondo.
The challenges for Taveras, this year, are two-fold. First, as the Taveras camp acknowledges, the mayor's credibility — and popularity — are tied up in the work he has done as mayor. The moment he decides to run for governor, he necessarily turns away from that work.