The formal unveiling of Charles Fogarty’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign on Monday should put to rest questions about whether the two-term lieutenant governor has the personality to mount a competitive challenge to GOP governor Donald L. Carcieri.
The well-crafted event at Lombardi’s 1025 Club in Johnston took more than a few cards from the Republican playbook, including the Reagan-like use of a face in the crowd, Odette McMahon of Glocester, who said Carcieri’s unsuccessful attempt to freeze respite funds in a previous budget would have landed her father in a nursing home. Indeed, with a focus on ending corruption in Rhode Island, and a withering assessment of Carcieri’s record, Fogarty’s spirited announcement speech constituted an unusual hybrid of GOP and Democratic themes. One of the underlying talking points — “Rhode Island is a state of great potential. But through the years, our potential has not been fully realized” — has been a hallmark of the governor’s excellent adventure in politics.
Still, it will take nothing less than this kind of broad message if Fogarty is going to have a shot of knocking off Carcieri, who has skillfully positioned himself against the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, and whose genial persona and superb communication skills would be the envy of any politician. With a flare for rhetorical debate, the incumbent governor has demonstrated his preparedness for the pending campaign for many months.
Taking up the challenge, Fogarty used his long-awaited campaign kick-off to mix a distinctly local Rhode Island touch (taking Carcieri to task for trying to close satellite DMV offices, for example) with repeated emphasis on such traditional Democratic concerns as education and health-care. He disparaged Carcieri’s Big Audit as “nothing but a Big Gimmick,” and compared Rhode Island’s current condition to what the Pawtucket Red Sox were like before Ben Mondor revived the triple-A franchise. Taking up the mantle of reform, Fogarty called for term limits in the legislature, requiring the disclosure of every meeting between public officials and lobbyists, and requiring candidates, elected officials, and key staff to disclose their personal assets and any outside sources of income.
As someone who has spent his adult life in public service, Fogarty is more than capable of giving an energetic stump speech, and he’s got the policy expertise to speak in a very informed way. At the 1025 Club on Monday, the packed and enthusiastic crowd — including an array of Democratic luminaries — ate it up.
Then again, this was a wholly partisan crowd, and the main question facing Fogarty’s campaign remains whether his message can catch fire with enough of those voters who have repeatedly endorsed divided government. Although the conventional wisdom holds that Fogarty remains a long shot, Carcieri has maintained a decent, but hardly insurmountable 11-point lead over his Democratic opponent in the last two polls conducted by Brown University political science professor Darrell West. Given Carcieri’s skillful use of the bully pulpit, and Fogarty’s comparatively lower profile as LG, the effectiveness of the Democrat’s line of attack bears watching.