Down ballot drama

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  March 10, 2010

Fernandez seems poised to highlight his work, under Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, cleaning up an old culture of corruption in City Hall; opponents will point to some sloppily handled cases highlighted by Providence City Councilman John Lombardi, a Cicilline critic, and laid out in the Providence Journal.

Fernandez, who is Filipino-American, will not emphasize race in the campaign. But as the lone minority in a Democratic field of white men, he will stand out. And if elected, he could become the first Asian-American elected attorney general in the US — vying with a set of three Asian-Americans running for attorney general in California this year.

His name could also play well in the heavily Latino South Side of Providence, which is expected to turn out in large numbers in support of Angel Tavares's bid to become the first Latino mayor of Providence.

Indeed, turnout in the down ballot races will ultimately be driven by other contests — for governor, Congress, and mayor. And harnessing that turnout is perhaps the most important task facing all of the lower-profile campaigns.

If intense interest in the top-tier races draws large numbers to the polls, fresh faces like Fernandez could benefit from an influx of voters who don't normally go to the polls. But it is far from clear that high turnout will deliver victory for the newbies.

Fernandez, who has never held elected office, does not yet enjoy high name recognition in Providence. But Kilmartin, a more traditionnal candidate, is fairly well known in his hometown. And with Pawtucket's Bill Lynch running for Congress, and a potentially competitive mayoral race brewing in that city, turnout in Kilmartin's back yard could be high.

But Kilmartin and Fernandez are not the only candidates in the race. Archambault is an energetic figure who has scored some early victories — some expected and some not. He locked up the endorsement of Democrats from his hometown and has been able to peel off some of the Obama crowd that worked with Fernandez, a co-chair of the president's Rhode Island campaign.

And in a small state, Archambault's camp is betting that his interpersonal skills will charm enough voters to put him over the top in a crowded field. Rainville is also attempting to carve out a niche in a four-way race. A self-described "conservative Democrat," he is casting himself as the outsider in the contest.

But Rainville, who has lost four races for state representative, will face questions about accusations that he awarded excessive fees to lawyers he appointed as guardians for the elderly during his time as a probate judge — accusations that he insists were politically motivated.

Moderate Party candidate Christopher H. Little claims experience in the health care and environmental arenas, but faces significant hurdles as the little-known representative of a new party.

Erik Wallin, the GOP candidate, has impressed in the early going as a serious figure. And he has placed a crackdown on public corruption at the center of his campaign — a message that could play well among an angry electorate in a one-party state. But he, too, is little known. And he cannot rely on a strong slate of Republicans to help him along.

John Robitaille, the Republican candidate for governor, is a relative unknown. And Wallin, at press time, was the only declared GOP candidate for a down ballot, statewide race.

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  Topics: News Features , Michael Dukakis, Barack Obama, Rhode Island Republican Party,  More more >
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