So it was hardly a surprise that Lynch decried "the divisive debate that has ground Washington to a halt" when he announced for Congress and emphasized that he will not march in lock-step with Congressional Democrats.
Still, if Lynch's erstwhile post as party chairman carries some baggage, it also provides the candidate with real advantages. His connections to national Democratic politics should allow him to raise substantial sums and roll out big-name endorsements. Indeed, observers say he is in the best position to win an endorsement from Kennedy — a close friend who gave him a week's notice about his decision to retire.
Lynch's command of the state-level political machinery, or what remains of it, is not as great as his former title might suggest. But his long-standing ties to Democratic activists throughout the district can only help. And Lynch should have a leg up in the battle for union support given Cicilline's high-profile, long-running spat with the Providence firefighters.
But labor leaders stress that they will take their time sizing up the field. Lynch, if friendly with union power brokers, is a bit of an unknown since he has not served in elected office of late. And some of the other potential candidates, Pacheco among them, could make a play for labor backing.
Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, says he expects organized labor to split over the race. And maintaining unity with labor's traditional allies, the state's progressive advocacy groups, will be no easy task either.
"This is going to be a hard race to keep that coalition together," he says.
Former Congressman Bob Weygand
THE THIRD DEMOCRAT
The full shape of the field was far from clear as the Phoenix went to press. But a consensus was forming among the political class that Cicilline and Lynch are likely to hold onto their early status as frontrunners. That would leave room for, perhaps, one more candidate to emerge as a top-tier contender.
Former Congressman Bob Weygand still had his hat in the ring at press time and could pose a credible challenge to Cicilline and Lynch. But several of the big names have already pulled their names out of consideration.
Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts has passed on the race in favor of a re-election bid. York, the former state senator and gubernatorial candidate, is eyeing a run for Providence mayor. And former State Representative Betsy Dennigan, who moved to a summer residence in the Second Congressional District to take on Congressman Langevin, has indicated that she will not make the awkward transition back to the first district.
The dearth of female candidates has focused attention on a little-known name: lawyer Donna Nesselbush, who served as executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence from 1984 to 1992, works as an associate judge in Pawtucket's municipal court, and has been in talks with Emily's List, a Washington group that raises money for pro-choice Democratic women.
Nesselbush, who could cut into some of Lynch's base in Pawtucket and compete with Cicilline for support in the gay community, is just one example of the sort of fresh-faced alternative that could punch through in an anti-establishment year.