GOP activist Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung announced Monday she’s challenging Democratic Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for his state representative seat in Cranston.

“Earlier today, my CF1 was officially filed at the Board of Elections,” Fenton-Fung said in a statement. “In response to a near tsunami of support in Cranston to end what has become the Mattiello horror show, this allows us to legally take the logical next steps to start fundraising and putting a winning team in place prior to formally launching a campaign.”

The announcement by Fenton-Fung, the wife of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, sets the stage for what will likely be the top legislative fight of Rhode Island’s 2020 campaign season.

It also comes as a grand jury probe of a short-lived audit of the RI Convention Center, ordered by Mattiello, is expected to conclude shortly.

Mattiello was first elected to the General Assembly in 2006 and he claimed the speakership in 2014, after Gordon Fox stepped down amid a corruption probe that ultimately led to criminal convictions and a prison sentence for Fox.

Rhode Island’s GOP National Committeeman, Steve Frias, came close to beating Mattiello for the state rep seat in 2016. But Mattiello edged out an 85-vote victory thanks to mail ballots. Mattiello beat Frias by a wider margin in 2018.

In a statement, Frias said he was "a reluctant candidate in both my races against the speaker," and that he did not discourage Fenton-Fung from taking up the mantle as a challenger to Mattiello.

Frias said he expects to back Fenton-Fung in November.

A challenge by Fenton-Fung to Mattiello was once seen as unlikely, but the relationship between Fung and Mattiello has weakened over the years.

For her part, Fenton-Fung said, “We are extremely excited about what 2020 has in store, including ridding District 15 of the never-ending scandals that surround its state representative.

The speaker is often called the most powerful political post in Rhode Island, since the person who holds that role has broad influence over legislation and the state budget. But just like the 74 other members of the House of Representatives, the speaker must seek re-election from his or her district every two years.

Fenton-Fung’s candidacy will stir more speculation about a possible change in the top job in the Rhode Island House.

In a statement, Mattiello said he will run on his record.

"I look forward to the continued honor of representing the citizens of House District 15 and intend to run on my strong record of accomplishment and leadership for the District and the City of Cranston,” he said.

“A small snapshot of those accomplishments include legislation that has strengthened our state's economy and job climate, ensured the phase-out of the onerous car tax, eliminated the income tax for many seniors who receive Social Security, addressed the opioid crisis, increased education aid, and strengthened school safety measures,” Mattiello said.

He added, “I continue to fight against the Governor's attempts to reduce municipal funding. It's a privilege to serve as an advocate for the city of Cranston in this fight, and unquestionably, my focus always has been and will continue to be on how I can best represent my constituents."