Campaign winners and sinners

A pre-election dissection of the tasty, the terrible, and the in-between
By IAN DONNIS  |  November 1, 2006

It’s almost all over but the counting. While candidates will still pound their messages in the fast-diminishing days leading up to the November 7 election — and their campaign organizations will push voters to the statewide polls — the themes and theatrics of Rhode Island’s 2006 campaign season have become abundantly clear.

So before the post-election analyses sets in, the Phoenix decided to look ahead by looking back.

Best timing
Good timing is that most valuable of political commodities, and SHELDON WHITEHOUSE has had it this year in spades.

If the value of increasing the number of Senate Democrats seemed a bit abstract when Whitehouse began sounding his drumbeat earlier this year, the flagging course of the Bush administration and of the war in Iraq have steadily reinforced this point for many Rhode Islanders. Then again, even for those plainly inclined to support Whitehouse, the single-minded monotony of his message has been tiresome at times.

While incumbent Lincoln Chafee can’t yet be counted out — and the effectiveness of his counter-attack against Whitehouse remains to be seen — the national context of the US Senate race very much put the moderate Republican on the defensive.

Most convenient comfort with ambiguity
When you’re LINC CHAFEE and your political life hangs in the balance, it’s all in a day’s work.

Hold a news conference near the Providence office of Tony Freitas, the Plunder Dome confidential informer convicted of domestic abuse, in which Freitas doesn’t take part (although he speaks during a subsequent media availability)? No problem.

Use this event to treat a picture of Whitehouse posing with Buddy Cianci in 2002 as something suspicious, even though many Rhode Islanders have been photographed with the now-imprisoned rascal king? Whatever.

Assemble another press gathering, a week later, in which guest star Meg Curran — the former US attorney who prosecuted Cianci — endorses Chafee, but steadfastly refuses to say anything negative about Whitehouse? Hmmm.

Most surprisingly negative campaign
Apparently believing that the best defense is a strong offense, Governor DONALD L. CARCIERI’s organization took a page from the national GOP playbook, vigorously trying to discredit Democrat Charles Fogarty in the mind of voters.

It wasn’t as venal as the Swift Boating of John F. Kerry in 2004, yet the persistent attempts to paint Fogarty as an unctuous and prototypical State House urchin suggested a serious lack of confidence amid a difficult year for Republicans nationwide.

The tactic was all the more surprising since Caricieri is an engaging and forceful candidate who exhibits mastery in discussing in complex detail his message and his goals.

Yet things got so severe that Common Cause of Rhode Island took the unusual step of criticizing as inaccurate and misleading an anti-Fogarty commercial sponsored by a Carcieri surrogate, the National Republican Governor’s Association. While the ad paints a Fogarty-drafted bill as offering a benefit for insiders, it “effectively closed a series of gaps or loopholes in existing laws related to financial disclosure and reporting,” Common Cause said in a news release.

Best culinary siting of a campaign headquarters
While most campaigns favor the central city of Warwick, THE FOGARTY CAMP went for the gastronomic heart of the state — Atwells Avenue on Federal Hill, right across from Siena.

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