Down ballot drama

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  March 10, 2010

That points to a larger concern for the state's restless conservative minority: it is far from clear the Rhode Island GOP will take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make inroads in a deep-blue state.

Rhode Island Republican Party chairman Giovanni Cicione says the GOP is ahead of its normal pace for recruiting candidates for General Assembly races: it has about 60, to date, on par with its total in June 2008.

But recruiting viable candidates for the top-tier races has proven difficult. Part of the problem is the legacy of failures past. After years of falling short at the polls, the party does not have a deep bench. And its small class of promising candidates seems unwilling to get up off the pine this year.

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who has long considered a run for higher office, appears poised to seek re-election. And Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, just a year-and-a-half into his first term, is not yet ready for a statewide run.

Thomas A. Sgouros Jr.


The race to succeed Caprio, who is running for governor, may be the most intriguing of the down ballot contests.

Caprio, despite his reputation as a political moderate, has made some forward-looking gestures: putting the state's checkbook on-line, for instance, and pushing to divest from Sudan in the face of genocide in the Darfur region of that country. Now that he is running for governor, progressives have a real shot at expanding upon on that legacy.

The only two declared candidates for the office, at present, are Democrats. And both have plenty of admirers in the liberal wing of the party.

Thomas A. Sgouros Jr., best known for dissecting the state budget in his bi-monthly publication Rhode Island Policy Reporter, has spent years in the trenches with progressive activists and has some of the best political minds in the state in his camp.

That should give him a leg up in a ground war that will be of paramount importance this year, with candidates for governor and Congress expected to saturate the airwaves and drown out the lower-profile races.

Of course, keeping advisers, volunteers, and donors engaged — with all the energy surrounding those high profile contests and a suddenly competitive race for Providence mayor — will be difficult. Indeed, all the down ballot candidates face that challenge in one way or another.

But Sgouros says his cabinet has largely held together. And after a solid fourth quarter of fundraising — he pulled in about $40,000 in a short period of time — he is doing all he can to keep up the momentum; Sgouros, who is Greek-American, recently met with former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis to discuss raising Greek money from around the country.

Keeping up with his Democratic rival will be tough, though. Gina Raimondo, a Rhodes Scholar who co-founded venture capital firm Point Judith Capital, raised $150,000 in the fourth quarter from friends, entrepreneurs, and management consultants and loaned her own campaign an additional $100,000.

And she is in solid position to keep the money flowing with Democratic rainmaker Bernie Buonanno, a partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge who has raised cash for senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, on board.

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