Yes, there will also be a gubernatorial race in Rhode Island this year.
Over recent months, polls have suggested a close race between Governor Donald L. Carcieri and his Democratic challenger, Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty. But after questioning the findings of Rasmussen Reports, Carcieri campaign manager Ken McKay found it more to his liking when a Brown University poll this week showed Caricieri leading Fogarty, 50 percent to 38 percent, up from 44 percent to 39 percent in June.
The Fogarty camp has tried to fan hopes of an upset against the relatively popular incumbent, e-mailing an excerpt from a recent Washington Post article that rated Rhode Island the ninth most likely state (up from 11) to switch the party of its governor. “Republicans are in free fall in the Northeast, and nowhere is it being felt more strongly than in Rhode Island,” asserted the Post. “Governor Donald Carcieri (R) hasn’t done much of anything wrong, but that ‘R’ after his name is a scarlet letter at the moment. Carcieri just went up on television with an ad that casts him as a reformer fighting against entrenched political interests. That may be a tough case to sell as an incumbent.”
In fact, however, the Republican incumbent tends to benefit when he sets himself against the state’s perennial dominant Democratic Party. And though the seemingly close race between Carcieri and Fogarty has come as something of a surprise, Rhode Islanders have demonstrated a clear preference for GOP governors over the last quarter-century.
Carcieri shows every sign of taking his opponent seriously. A recent fundraising letter from the governor warned would-be supporters, “I am facing re-election this year and will have tough opposition [emphasis in original]. The Democrat party and union bosses will spend millions to distort my record, defeat me, and gain complete control of Rhode Island.”
Fogarty knows government inside and out, and his skill as a stump speaker is better than many people might imagine. Nor does it hurt him that Carcieri has alienated union members, state workers, and others inclined to support a challenger. One of Fogarty’s recent campaign commercials, which showed him happily picking up litter, was a pleasantly light counterpoint in the negative primary season. While Republicans ridicule the longtime officeholder’s attempt to capitalize on an anti-corruption platform, Common Cause’s Phil West gives Fogarty some props. “My sense is that he was always fairly good [on good government issues],” says West. “He was not the spear-carrier for any ethics reform that we’ve done, but he’s been sound.”
Fogarty hits the governor for in¬creased joblessness, rising tuition costs at state colleges, and a significant increase in the number of Rhode Islanders who lack access to health insurance. “If you ask the Reaganesque question — are you better off in Rhode Island now than four years ago?” he says, “the answer is, ‘No.’ ”
One suspects, though, that Fogarty needs to considerably flesh out his vision for the state if he’s going to overtake Carcieri.