Whither the rage? Rhode Island's Great Recession — greater, even, than the national model — was supposed to conjure a once-in-a-generation anti-incumbent fever. But so far, it's looking more like a modest headache.
Voters, to be sure, are not pleased. Polling data suggest exceedingly dark views of the Rhode Island economy and almost no faith in the current collection of elected officials to lead a revival. But thus far, the electorate is showing few signs of a throw-the-bums-out mentality.
A recent Brown University poll suggests the two statewide elected officials running for re-election this fall, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, have comfortable leads over their Democratic challengers with only a few weeks to the party's primary.
Congressman James Langevin also appears to be cruising to the Democratic nomination and re-election in the fall. And the major open-seat elections, perhaps a better opportunity for a storm-the-barricades movement, are hardly shaping up as vehicles for insurrection.
State Representative Peter Kilmartin, the establishment choice for attorney general, is out in front in the Brown poll. And with Congressman Patrick Kennedy set to retire at the end of the term, the favorite to replace him — Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline — does not yet find himself in the dogfight many were predicting.
He's opened up a wide fundraising lead, launched a pair of well-received television ads — one targeting the economic concerns that dominate the political moment, another focused on the seniors who vote in such large numbers — and is faring quite well in the polls.
The Brown survey, if criticized on methodological grounds by some campaign strategists and independent observers, nonetheless suggests Cicilline is in good shape: 32 percent of likely Democratic voters say they would back him to 15 percent for former party chairman Bill Lynch, 11 percent for businessman Anthony Gemma, and 5 percent for State Representative David Segal.
In the gubernatorial race, meanwhile, the sole Democrat remaining — Frank Caprio — is the consummate insider: he has climbed patiently from General Assembly to state treasurer, built a large Rolodex of donors along the way, and is exhibiting the message discipline of a seasoned pol.
Even the supposed wild card in this election season, independent gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee, makes a less-than-credible claim to the outsider's mantle: he's from one of Rhode Island's best-known political families and served for years as a Warwick mayor and US senator.
It is hard to imagine a truly out-of-nowhere candidate making the inroads that Chafee has to date: just ask Ken Block, gubernatorial nominee for the upstart Moderate Party.
Anthony Affigne, a political science professor at Providence College, notes that an anti-incumbent atmosphere often claims long-serving pols before an election — hastening retirements and leaving a deceptively strong pool of incumbents standing for re-election.
But that isn't the case in Rhode Island. Kennedy appears to have retired not because he feared defeat in November, but because he needed to concentrate on his personal affairs after the death of his father and a life consumed by politics. And on Smith Hill, the 15 retirements in the General Assembly this year is nothing all that unusual.