And a new grassroots insurgency, which the public merely glimpsed with the Tea Party, will become a potent force for change.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. Intriguing? Certainly.


THE 'COUNTERBALANCING VOICE'

The Democrats' dominance of state politics is a creature of the liberal leanings of the Northeast, of ancient ethnic ties, of history and incumbency and fundraising prowess. But it also owes something to the small army of lobbyists and policy wonks and interest groups that have built up around Democratic politics.

There are the labor unions, of course. The environmental groups and anti-poverty advocates. Even the business community, a natural Republican constituency, has cleaved to the Democratic Party — a source of no small frustration for Cicione, the GOP party chair.

"They made a decision a long time ago that they were going to play ball with the Democratic leadership because they had the juice," he said.

But if the chamber of commerce is out of reach, for now, GOP officials can take solace in the quiet emergence of something new — a loose network of conservative advocacy groups and policy types and bloggers fired by the same frustrations that produced the Tea Party.

"You're beginning to see pieces of a counterbalancing voice," said Governor Carcieri, in an interview in his office this week.

The governor is behind one of the groups that has sprouted in recent years: Transform Rhode Island, which sponsors radio advertisements featuring Carcieri's pronouncements on taxes, welfare, and illegal immigration.

And there are other party-sponsored initiatives. On a recent Thursday night, about two dozen conservative souls gathered around fruit plates at a downtown restaurant for the launch of a most unlikely endeavor: the Rhode Island Republican Black Caucus.

"Our party's at a state right now," said caucus chairwoman Renay Omisore, "where we can only go up."

But there are grassroots efforts, too. The most prominent, perhaps, is the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, an advocacy group with South County roots that fancies itself the "Headquarters of the Rhode Island Revolt."

Composed of some 4000 retirees, small business owners, and local tax advocates, the coalition has nothing approaching the clout of, say, public employee unions. But the group has made some inroads.

The organization lobbied for a property tax cap that passed a couple of years back, threw a little money at some conservative candidates in the fall elections, and saw one of its own — board member Edward J. O'Neill — score the biggest upset of the campaign season: ousting then-Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, a long-serving Democrat under an ethics cloud.

Up the road in Providence, conservative gadfly Bill Felkner has launched the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, a right-wing think tank focused on government transparency, Medicaid reform, and other assorted conservative causes.

"There has not been a free-market voice — a true free-market voice — in this state," said Felkner.

And there are others. The Rhode Island Republican Assembly, part of a national organization that calls itself the "Republican Wing of the Republican Party," is holding down the right.

A reborn Rhode Island Young Republi-cans, led by Brown University graduate Travis Rowley, author of Out of Ivy: How a Liberal Ivy Created a Committed Conservative, is attempting to identify one fundraising specialist in each of the state's 38 State Senate districts.

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