Considering this, Carcieri has only strengthened his hand by exhibiting a willingness to go on the offensive at key moments. The best example is how the governor, rather than letting pass with subdued comment a Sunday morning advertorial viewed by a relative handful of people, forcefully skewered Guy Dufault after the Democratic consultant made his infamous unsubstantiated and unintentionally aired comattas allegations in November. (Carcieri’s response was reminiscent of how he showed up at a news conference held by York during the 2002 campaign, effectively undercutting her attempt to portray him as an irresponsible captain of industry during his corporate career.)
Few could doubt the governor’s sense of outrage, although the state room news conference in which he repudiated Dufault had the elements of political theater, including how chief of staff Ken McKay audibly waved reporters away from first lady Sue Carcieri, who sat at the side of the room. What’s more, the aggressive response offered a nifty hat trick for the Republican governor: first, Carcieri destroyed at least the short-term prospects of Dufault, a leading political foe, who lost his most lucrative consulting clients, including the Narragansett Indian tribe, and will perhaps be on the sidelines for the 2006 campaign season; Second, his staff exposed Democratic doubts about Fogarty by replaying the videotape in which Dufault ran down the lieutenant governor’s slow-starting campaign; Third, and more importantly in terms of the looming gubernatorial contest, the governor imprinted in the public consciousness an image of dirty partisan politics that could constrain Democrats’ ability to mount effective attack ads.
The willingness to play hardball extends to Carcieri’s support for the dissident Democrats challenging House Speaker William J. Murphy, a move that has diminished a bit of the might associated with the most powerful post in state government.
Some of the Democrats aligned with Murphy express frustration at Carcieri’s ability to attract positive reviews, including year-end articles by myself in the Phoenix, Scott MacKay in Providence Journal, and Jim Baron in the Times of Pawtucket that cited the governor’s increased traction on Smith Hill as a major local political story of 2005. “He takes credit for everything good, and everything bad, he goes after us,” gripes one observer. “There’s no happy medium. He’s good at it, and I give him credit for it . . . but yet nothing he can get accomplished on his resume would be done without the General Assembly.”
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal disputes this view, saying, “The governor has given the legislature a lot of credit for ultimately seeing the value of pension reform and other proposals.” Ultimately, Neal says, Carcieri deserves the credit for the coming to fruition of pension reform. “At the beginning of that debate, no one thought the governor had any chance of succeeding,” he says. “But the important thing is that the governor identified an important issue to the citizens of Rhode Island, and managed by communicating it in a clear way to get the reform that Rhode Island needed.”
Is Carcieri RI's Barry Goldwater?
In the wishful thinking of Republicans, a Carcieri victory this fall, combined with even modest GOP legislative gains, could signal the beginning of the end of the Democratic dominance that has characterized Rhode Island since the “Bloodless Revolution” of 1935. A few more cycles of steadily increased GOP representation in the General Assembly, or so the thinking goes, and the state’s perennial minority party could be in business.