Elections officials were expecting strong turnout as voters went to the polls Tuesday, after a campaign season that has been marked by intense partisanship at the national level.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats, stopped to greet voters at the Myron Francis polling place in the Rumford section of East Providence. Cicilline predicted "a great Democratic victory here in Rhode Island, up and down the ticket ... This is the one day of the year, no matter where you live, what your zip code is, how much money or how little money you have in the bank, or any other problems in your life, everyone has an equal opportunity to make their voices heard and shape their future."
On a national level, the election could have significant consequences for Cicilline, since he's trying to move up in the House leadership, competing with Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois for assistant Democratic leader. The Democratic victory expected by some would enable him to vie for the post. Asked if he could one day see himself as U.S. House speaker, Cicilline laughed and said, "Look, we have to first take the House back, but I'll do anything I can to ensure I'm in the leadership so that Rhode Island has a voice at the leadership table."
In Barrington, a line of voters formed in the morning at a local middle school. A polling place in North Providence was busy at lunchtime, but did not have long lines. A poll worker said it had been busier than Primary Day, "but nothing too crazy."
By mid-afternoon, a misty, gray morning had turned to a driving rain in Providence. Despite the weather, more than 200,000 Rhode Islanders had already voted, according to a tweet from the state Board of Elections, more than the total number of people who went to the polls during the state's September primary election.
In Rhode Island, top races included the gubernatorial contest between incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo and her most significant rival, Republican Allan Fung, and a U.S. Senate race between Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse and Republican Robert Flanders. In both races, the Democratic incumbents were leading in the most recent polls.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has also been leading in the polls. He faces a challenge from Democrat Jay Gonzalez. Massachusetts voters will also decide a series of ballot measures that include transgender rights and nurse staffing rules.
While the candidates for governor have crisscrossed their states over the last several months, other local races have also nabbed attention. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is poised to become the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress in state history. She has no Republican challenger on Tuesday.
Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat, is battling for re-election in Cranston, in a race that is being closely watched by Democrats and Republicans. Two years ago, Mattiello nearly lost re-election in a race that was ultimately decided by 85 votes.
This year Mattiello faces the same Republican opponent, Steven Frias, who has gotten a campaign boost from an unlikely direction: progressive Democrats. They were angered by the speaker's lack of support for issues including a state right to abortion during the last legislative session.
Mattiello has also recently been dogged by allegations that he mishandled a report of sexual harassment at the Statehouse.
In Providence, Mayor Jorge Elorza also faces a re-election fight. His main challenger, independent candidate Dee Dee Witman, has tried to portray herself as a strong leader who will work to build consensus to solve some of the city's biggest challenges, including a significantly underfunded pension program and low-performing public schools.
In Jamestown, state Democratic Rep. Deborah L. Ruggiero is facing a re-match with Republican Rebecca Schiff. In 2016, Ruggiero won with about 55 percent of the vote, with Schiff taking 44.6 percent. Earlier this year, Ruggiero was among a group of progressive Democrats who broke ranks with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who is also up for re-election. Ruggiero has said publicly that if she is re-elected she won’t support reinstating Mattiello as speaker.
At the Lawn Avenue School in Jamestown Tuesday, Devin Bridgman came out to support Schiff. Bridgeman, 24, a high school graduate who works in landscaping, said it was the first time he was voting.
“If we get the right people in – like we have Trump and Rebecca Schiff,’’ Bridgman said, “I believe it might go it’ll turn to the right.’’
Tony Pinheiro of Jamestown also said he was voting Republican. The 58-year-old oyster farmer said the feels the country is headed in the right direction.
“It’s working for us. It’s working for my family, especially, the business,’’ he said. “I’m going red all the way.”
-with reports by Lynn Arditi