Coming into Election Day, the candidates in the race for Rhode Island governor presented voters with a simple choice: change direction or stay the course.

Democratic Gov. Dan McKee ran on his record so far as governor, having been sworn in less than two years ago during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis brought on by the pandemic, and asked voters for four more years to finish what he’d started. 

Republican challenger Ashley Kalus promoted herself as a new face ready to take on the challenges she said McKee was not up for addressing.

On Tuesday, Rhode Islanders signaled they found McKee’s appeal to voters more compelling, electing him to his first full term as the state’s governor. With 83% of votes counted Tuesday night, the Associated Press called the race for McKee, with 58% of votes to Kalus’ 39.1%.

McKee was with other Rhode Island Democrats gathered at the Graduate Providence hotel, formerly the Biltmore, where U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced McKee’s victory to a standing crowd in the hotel’s second floor garden room just before 9 p.m.

“We're just getting started,” McKee told a cheering crowd during a victory speech toward the end of the evening. “Tonight, let's celebrate this victory. Tomorrow, let's get to work.”

As he did throughout the campaign, McKee, the former lieutenant governor, pointed to progress the state made after Gina Raimondo left Rhode Island to take an appointment in the Biden administration and McKee became governor. McKee specifically pointed to the state’s progress vaccinating more Rhode Islanders against COVID-19 infection and navigating the reopening of the economy.

“I think about what we can do and what we've achieved over the last 20 months,” McKee told the crowd.

Kalus, who moved to Rhode Island in 2021 and drew on her own personal wealth in her campaign, painted a different picture of McKee during the race, calling him an ineffective leader who’d been given enough time to make necessary changes in the state but had failed to do so. 

While sometimes criticized as being short on policy specifics, Kalus appealed to voters as a candidate who would make necessary changes to improve the state’s education system and promoted herself as an experienced business person who believes lower taxes and lower regulations would help strengthen the state’s economy.

On Tuesday night, she told supporters gathered at the Event Factory in Warwick she’d called Gov. McKee to congratulate him on his victory. She said she wanted people who backed her candidacy to know “we should all be incredibly proud of what we've accomplished.”

Kalus added, “We highlighted problems that are plaguing our state. We highlighted that people are struggling so that their needs can hopefully get met. And we brought front and center the most important issues of our time.” 

During his speech Tuesday night, McKee pointed to the state’s low unemployment rate as a sign of progress being made and indicated he was optimistic about the future.

“There's still good paying jobs left,” McKee said. “And the reason there's good paying jobs left is because we have put in motion projects around the state of Rhode Island that are going to provide what we need, which is j-o-b-s for everybody out there.” 

McKee closed his speech by saying, “Let's make sure that we do what we need to do to bring the state to a level that we've never seen before, because we have momentum like we've never seen before in the state, and we're gonna keep it, and we're just getting started.”

Alex Nunes can be reached at