Insiders are predicting a handful of hotly contested primaries for Assembly seats next month. But no great wave appears imminent. GOP officials, of course, say the real action will come with the general election in November. But the state's tiny Republican Party seems to be struggling, thus far, to convert a rare opportunity for electoral gains.

The party failed to put up well-known candidates for several high-profile races. Its gubernatorial hopefuls trail Caprio and Chafee in the polls. And a recent press conference unveiling the GOP's "RI Clean Slate" campaign, meant to usher Republicans and independents into the legislature, fell prey to some gentle ridicule in the press when only a handful of candidates showed up.

Still, Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island, says the state's political order could be headed for a shift next year — even if voters are relatively kind to incumbents.

Chafee may not be a wild-eyed outsider. But the election of an independent to the governor's chair would be no small thing, Moakley says. And with a pair of key House Democrats running for higher office — Steven Costantino, chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, is making a bid for Providence mayor and Kilmartin, the majority whip, is vying to be attorney general — the legislative leadership is poised for change.

That sort of change, though, is not the kind many imagined.

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