Don't expect the same kind of impact on Tuesday with a larger electorate in play and, from what I understand, some energy on the right; it seems conservative voters are a little bent out of shape this year.

But the unions will be at it again, working closely fought legislative districts and, in some cases, doing battle with each other in the gubernatorial race — Chafee partisans on one side and Caprio backers on the other.

Solidarity forever!


PROGRESSIVES RELOADED

A small, loosely affiliated group of liberal legislators known as the Progressive Caucus was just starting to show some promise when news came earlier this year that it was losing three of its youthful stars: Representative Ray Sullivan, who was hanging 'em up to take a job with Congressman James Langevin, Representative Edwin Pacheco, who was stepping down to focus on his new post as chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Representative David Segal, who was launching a bid for Congress.

But the not-so-vast left-wing conspiracy, it seems, is not quite dead.

Due in part to the efforts of organized labor, a small collection of liberals triumphed in September's primaries and is poised to reinvigorate a flagging caucus: Christopher Blazejewski, who is running to fill Segal's Providence seat; Teresa Tanzi, who ousted David Caprio in the Democratic primary in Narragansett; Richard Morrison, who upset "Pigs" Gablinske; and Maria Cimini, who is expected to replace departing moderate Joanne Giannini.

The new liberal contingent should have a sympathetic ear in Speaker of the House Gordon Fox.


THE BELLWETHER RACES

If Republican Congressional candidate John J. Loughlin II manages to beat Democrat David Cicilline in this bluest of states, it'll be a sign that the national GOP wave is turning into a tsunami.

In the General Assembly, a gentle lapping at the shore is probably all the Republicans can hope for, even in this season of discontent. But there are, nonetheless, some races worth watching.

Republican Gregory Coutcher is making a strong play for an open seat formerly held by a Democrat in Coventry and West Greenwich. The GOP's Michael Chippendale is making a credible run at Democratic Representative Scott Pollard of Foster. And Republican Julian Forgue is waging a surprisingly spirited challenge to Democratic Senator Paul Fogarty of Glocester.

It will also be interesting to see whether a handful of dethroned Democrats like Gablinske, waging write-in campaigns, pull voters from the party's new standard-bearer and tilt the general election to the Republican.

GOP chairman Giovanni Cicione says he is expecting to pick up at least 12 seats in the legislature and is eyeing 10 more. For a state party that has, in the last couple of years, become even more irrelevant than usual, failure in winnable races this time around would mean . . . well, I guess you can't get much worse than irrelevant.


THE TEA PARTY FACTOR

If the Republicans are to make any inroads, they'll need to tap into some of the Tea Party's frothy energy.

Rhode Island's iteration of the national uprising against federal spending, health care reform, and gramatically correct signage has been trying, for some time, to channel its inchoate passion into real political power.

This election will mark the first — and, if the organization falls flat, possibly the last — test of that attempted transformation.

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