RI ’08: Prelude to 2010

By IAN DONNIS  |  October 31, 2008

The prospect of a wider Democratic gubernatorial primary remains in play; Lynch, Roberts, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, and former LG Charles Fogarty (who very nearly beat Carcieri in 2006) could also be in the mix.

For now, though, the fiscal nightmare offers an edge to Caprio, who’s getting far more media attention of late than the quantity normally afforded to someone in the treasurer’s office. Adding to the in-trigue is the friendly relationship between the Carcieri and Caprio clans, as evidenced by how some of the treasurer’s relatives have made past political contributions to the governor.

Yet the middle ground appeal of Caprio — who has been known to sound like a Republican on occasion — could also work against him in a Democratic primary dominated by more liberal voters.

Republican stasis
For an indicator of the hurdles facing RI Republicans, consider the party’s congressional candidates: Jon Scott, a semi-employed grant writer (with independent Ken Capalbo), is making his second run against US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy; Mark Zaccaria, an Air Force veteran and former corporate executive is opposing US Representative James R. Langevin; and Bob Tingle, a pit boss at Foxwoods is challenging US Senator Jack Reed.

These challengers deserve credit for getting in the ring and for giving a choice to voters. Yet is it really a choice when their under-funded campaigns have such minimal chances of success?

To take it a step further, it’s worth noting that Reed, a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, served a few terms in the Rhode Island Senate before running for the US Senate. By compari-son, Scott and Tingle have never held elective office, and Zaccaria served two terms on the North Kingstown Town Council.

The case can certainly be made that the current approach to campaign finance — which lends obvious advantages to incumbents — is in serious need of change. As Marc Comtois recently wrote on the conservative blog Anchor Rising (anchorrising.com), referring to the almost $1 billion spent by the Obama and McCain campaigns, “Imagine what that money could do in local communities across this country.”

More to the point, Rhode Island Republicans could have seized upon Clean Elections, the stalled local effort to level the playing field of campaign finance, as a possibly potent campaign issue.

Giovanni Cicione, chairman of the RI GOP, told me last week on WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers, though, that he takes a wary view of these kind of well-intentioned reforms, “[Because] more often that not, by the time they filter through the legislature, they just become incumbent-protection rules.”

While Cicione has a point, it’s not like the status quo is working well for Rhode Island Republicans.

In citing a hopeful portent of change, the GOP points to the primary upset of longtime incumbent Stephen D. Alves (D-West Warwick), the chairman of powerful the House Finance Committee. Yet Mi-chael J. Pinga’s narrow victory over Alves seems due in considerable part to the incumbent’s lackluster campaign.

The RI GOP has perpetuated its marginal status in the General Assembly by failing to run enough candidates in successive election cycles, and while there is some improvement this time around, the Republican effort isn’t about to reorder the legislature.

In a situation that almost wholly favors Democrats, 15 of the elections for the 38-seat Senate feature only one candidate, and the same is true for 31 of the 75 House elections.

So while some sort of change in the White House will be formally set in motion next week, Rhode Island’s political landscape appears poised to be more of the same.  

To read Ian Donnis’s politics + media blog, go to thephoenix.com/notfornothing. He can be reached at idonnis@phx.com.

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