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TGIF: 20 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media

Now that we political junkies have spent a year or so obsessing about the Rhode Island primary, there's just a bit more than seven weeks until Rhode Island's general election on November 6. 

So thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. As usual, your tips and comments are welcome, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters.

1. As it turns out, the biggest surprise from the primary election Wednesday was Gov. Gina Raimondo's almost 24 point margin of victory over her top Democratic rival, Matt Brown. After emerging in March from a 12-year absence from Rhode Island's political scene, Brown and his campaign used populist rhetoric and grassroots tactics to fan hopes of a stunning upset. But in the end, Raimondo smoked Brown, defeating him by more than 25,000 votes and attracting 57.1 percent of the Democratic vote. The governor was exuberant (and a bit hoarse) while addressing supporters at Union Station Brewery after her victory; she called the outcome a confirmation of her administration's approach to improving the economy. "We've been working as fast as we can to bring that change, and tonight the people of Rhode Island have said, 'do more, go faster, and keep going,' so that's what we're going to do," Raimondo said. She also previewed her message for November, asserting that Republican candidate Allan Fung will set the state back and embrace President Donald Trump's policies. Raimondo has been a polarizing figure since 2011, when as state treasurer she spearheaded the pension overhaul that enhanced her out-of-town reputation (while angering public employees, teachers and retirees, who have relatives throughout the state). But Brown ultimately proved no match for Raimondo's multi-faceted advantages: incumbency, a very effective GOTV effort, a colossal campaign account, near-universal support from progressive women (despite Brown's emphasis of his backing from feminist icon Gloria Steinem), and a jobs-and-economy message that resonated with voters. Yet November is fast approaching, and Mayor Fung has demonstrated an ability to stage a far more competitive race with Raimondo, with a larger pool of voters.

2. Republican Allan Fung acknowledged (during an appearance on Rhode Island Public Radio's Political Roundtable this week) being surprised at the margin of Raimondo's win, but he had his own 16-point victory over top GOP rival Patricia Morgan to celebrate. And Raimondo's campaign handed Fung a gift on the day after the primary by using footage of Providence for a purported Cranston scene in a new campaign ad crticizing Fung's record. "C'mon, this is another Iceland moment," Fung said, referring to the short-lived "Cooler and Warmer" tourism campaign. (Raimondo's campaign released an updated ad while standing by its criticism of Fung.) "She just can't get anything right," Fung said, pointing to the ongoing UHIP saga, problems at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, and the "Gina-Jam" on Interstate 195. Meanwhile, Rhode Island Forward, a group backed by the Republican Governors Association, released an anti-Raimondo ad. Asked if the 57 percent of Democratic primary voters are blind to what Fung describes as the governor's record of mismanagment, he said, "Well, you just hit the nail on the head. A lot of the Democratic voters, ah, but when I've been throughout Rhode Island, criss-crossing the state for 10 months now, and a lot of the people that I've been talking to felt left behind, a lot of the small business owners throughout the state, they see this corporate welfare culture that the governor subscribed to, you know, bringing in these big companies for big pay ... and they felt left out of the fray, don't see the economic impact that she touts, many people that are seriously bene left behind and hurt and forgotten"

3. The mobius strip of partisan politics (slightly simplified): 1) Gov. Raimondo argues she's catalyzed Rhode Island's economy for the better, despite the dystopia of Mayor Fung's Cranston; 2) Mayor Fung argues he's made Cranston a shining beacon, despite the dystopia that is Raimondo's Rhode Island.

4. Republican-turned-independent candidate for governor Joe Trillo spoke with Rhode Island's three local TV stations in the aftermath of the primary, signaling that he plans to step up his campaign. Back in 2014, Robert "Cool Moose" Healey got almost 22 percent of the general election vote. Trillo has guaranteed himself a ticket to the November election by running as an independent. Trillo's presence in the race represents a challenge for Mayor Fung: he will compete for votes while trying to outflank Fung on the right (and perhaps also on the left). The two key questions remain: where is Trillo's ceiling in the race? And can he move past spoiler status?

5. Now that the primary election is over, the rematch between House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D) and Republican challenger Steven Frias will move closer to center stage. Back in 2016, Mattiello beat Frias by just 85 votes, so the Cranston state rep battle is the key legislative contest of the fall campaign. The outcome will have significant consequences for the leadership of the House and the power dynamic between the governor and the General Assembly. If Raimondo wins in November, and Mattiello loses, Raimondo will become the dominant figure in Rhode Island's Democratic Party. (House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi of Warwick, who ran Raimondo's 2010 campaign for treasurer and chaired Democrats' 2014 coordinated campaign, is the likely heir-apparent as speaker under that scenario.)

6. Progressive state Rep. Moira Walsh (D-Providence) prevailed Wednesday over primary challenger Michael Earnheart, dealing a setback to Speaker Mattiello. Mattiello staffers were seen working to rally votes for Earnheart on Wednesday -- and that came after the RI Democratic Party moved in July to pull back its endorsement of Earnheart, who had voted for President Trump in 2016. Walsh included the hash tags #friendsofrias and #needahand? in offering a backhanded compliment to Mattiello via tweet: "Huge shout out to @RISpeaker, for pushing me to strive harder, push farther, and hold grudges. JANUARY fast approacheth: i hope you’re confident." Meanwhile, a string of other progressives won on Wednesday, including Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell of Providence and Senate candidate Bridget Valverde of East Greenwich, along with rep candidates Laufton Ascencao of Bristol, Rebecca Kislak of Providence, Liana Cassar of Barrington. Meanwhile, a story by the ProJo's Katherine Gregg is sparking speculation about a potential leadership challenge to Mattiello. The Cranston lawmaker won the speakership back in 2014, and more time in office generally results in a slip in internal support. Yet it remains unclear if anyone could mount an effective challenge to the speaker, if he prevails over Frias in November. It's worth remembering Mattiello had a bad primary night in 2016, losing four supporters: Majority Leader John DeSimone, and Reps. Eileen Naugton of Warwick, Jan Malik of Warren and Thomas Palangio of Providence. This time around, Mattiello might be able to add to his team through primary winners James Jackson (in the seat being vacated by Republican Patricia Morgan) and Lucas Murray (in the seat being vacated by Republican Bobby Nardolillo). Of course, this being Rhode Island, the magic number to win the speakership remains .... wait for it .... 38.

7. Mattiello campaign spokeswoman Patti Doyle on the November outlook for the speaker: "Speaker Mattiello continues to walk his district daily and feels the momentum and support for a comfortable victory in November. His focus has been and continues to be on jobs and the economy and he has a track record for improving both, which resonates with his constituents. That is clearly in sharp contrast to his opponent who has no such record of accomplishment. He enjoys the overwhelming support of the majority of the House members and will be re-elected as speaker post-Election Day." Rival Steven Frias notes how a chuck of Democrats in Mattiello's district didn't vote for him Wednesday, even though they were both unopposed in the primary (Frias got 891 votes, compared with 867 for Mattiello): "I did not expect Mattiello to receive fewer votes than me in the primary since there were more people voting in the Democratic primary than the Republican primary in District 15," Frias said. "But it does not surprise me. As I have gone door to door, I have met a number of Democratic leaning voters who have told me they are definitely not voting for him this time."

8. Sad news from Fountain Street, where three staffers have been laid off at The Providence Journal: longtime reporter Andy Smith, the paper's lone remaining feature writer; deputy editorial page editor Randal Edgar (who was a 12-year veteran when he moved from Statehouse beat in 2014), and online producer Stephen IdeJohn Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, confirmed the cuts after being contacted by RIPR. Hill said the cuts are particularly frustrating since management declined to specify a particular target for reduced spending as part of a recent buyout offer. The Journal's exeutive editor, Alan Rosenberg, said the layoffs were made "due to continued difficult business conditions. We’ll continue to deploy staff and freelance writers to make sure that we are covering Rhode Island’s most interesting and important stories."

9. Breaking down the vote: Gov. Raimondo got 15,638 votes in her home community of Providence, a little under 25 percent of her total. Her other top communities included Barrington, Bristol, Central Falls, Charlestown, East Greenwich, Jamestown, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Westerly ... Matt Brown ran strongest, and Raimondo worst, in Burrillville, site of the controversial proposed Invenergy power plant, and such nearby communities as Foster, Glocester, and Scituate .... Mayor Fung got 3,675 votes in his home community of Cranston, about 20 percent of his total. Fung's other top communities included Johnston, North Providence, and Tiverton.

10. The tightest race of the primary came with state Rep. Aaron Regunberg's progressive challenge to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee. McKee prevailed despite being considerably outspent. Yet few doubt that Regunberg, 28, will re-emerge on RI's political scene at some point in the future. For an encouraging example, he might look to Angel Taveras, who ran in a four-way field for Congress in 2000 and developed as a force in Providence politics 10 years later. "We knew that this campaign was not going to be easy," Regunberg wrote in a note to supporters. "We knew we were up against some powerful interests. But tonight, the people of Rhode Island sent a message that our movement, that our fight, that our voices cannot be ignored. And we will not stop demanding that our state and our nation make the right choices for our future."

11. The pension issue has been following Gov. Raimondo ever since she led the state's overhaul in 2011. For a look at how this looked in the primary campaign, consider these competing media narratives: ahead of the election, Wall Street Journal opinion writer Alysia Finley -- a longtime fan -- wrote that Raimondo was "fighting to save her state, and her party." A Washington Post editorial used a similar theme after the election: "her career thus far, bolstered by her decisive victory Wednesday, teaches an important lesson for politicians of all parties: Asking constituents to sacrifice for the long-term public good is not an electoral death sentence, at least not if the reform is shaped and led with professionalism, fairness, honesty and respect for all sides." Elsewhere, writing in the Intercept ahead of the primary, Aida Chavez, embraced Matt Brown's rhetoric (which echoed earlier takes from Matt Taibbi and others): "The claim of 'most extreme corporatist' may sound like hyperbole, but as state treasurer, Raimondo touched off a scandal by pushing through pension reform legislation that handed a billion dollars of state worker money over to hedge funds with links to the conservative movement, which harvested eye-popping fees."

12. Mayor Fung's appearance on RIPR's Political Roundtable and Bonus Q&A this week marked his first visit to our studio since February 2017, despite a number of invitations. Fung was unapologetic about declining RIPR's requests for year and a half: "I don't think it was a mistake. I'm here talking to you now. We are out in the community, in the neighborhoods, talking to many people. And basically it was a lot of the lessons that we learned from [the primary in] '14 -- I wanted to stay on-message about who am I, what we've done to turn to Cranston around." Fung denied that he was shielding himself from reporters, despite his very limited exponsure to the media during the primary. "We were on many different forums there, talking to our primary base voters," he said, in an apparent reference to talk radio. 

13 Yes, Chris Hayes, Rhode Island is a weird-ass state -- and we're proud of it.

14. Woman are poised to control most of the Providence City Council, via Dan McGowan. Meanwhile, Mayor Jorge Elorza won 57.5 percent of the vote on Wednesday. Independent challenger Dee Dee Witman has signaled plans to spend heavily in her general election race with Elorza, yet it remains to be seen if she can compete effectively for votes on the strategically important South Side of Providence.

15. Flying under the radar is how two self-identified democratic socialists won their primary elections on Wednesday: Rachel Miller in the Ward 13 Providence City Council seat and Sam Bell in the three-way battle for the seat held by Sen. Paul Jabour (D-Providence). "Socialist" remains a charged phrase in American politics, despite the popularity of Bernie Sanders and some other unabashed leftists, so I asked these two to explain what democratic socialism means to them. Miller: "For me, a democratic socialist is someone who believes that we can do better -- for living wage jobs where people's rights are respected, for safe and quality affordable housing, to promote policies and practices in the service of the many, not the few. It's an extension of my life's work for racial, economic and social justice, and of the values shared by many across the ward and the city." Bell: "Bernie Sanders is my political hero. The Democratic Pary in Rhode Island needs to address the breakdown of basic public services that poor and middle class families rely on. Since Rhode Island's massive tax cuts for the rich, we've seen our roads and schools deteriorate. We've seen severe cuts to Medicaid. I talked to so many people during this campaign who were kicked off of Medicaid. One woman was kicked off in the middle of cancer treatment. She has to pay $30,000 for the chemotherapy she just needed to stay alive. Our party needs to refocus on repealing the tax cuts for the rich, so we can finally talk about rebuilding in our public services."

16. Rhode Island House Minority Whip Blake Filippi is in a good spot to move up to become the GOP leader in the chamber, now that Patricia Morgan's time as a rep is ticking down. Rep. Mike Chippendale (R-Foster), who competed with Morgan for the post in 2016, tells me: "I'm supporting and urging my colleagues to support Blake. My goal is a unified, focused caucus."

17. Report: "The news media, like many other major U.S. institutions, has suffered from a decline in public confidence in recent years. A key question for the future of the news media, as well as for U.S. democracy, is whether that trust is lost for good."

18. Besides Moira WalshBridget Valverde was the other candidate on the short side of a controversial (and later rescinded) endorsement from the RI Democratic Party. As it turns out, she won 84 percent of the vote in her primary election with rival Democrat Gregory Acciardo. Valverde offers this perspective on her experience as a progressive candidate: "I’ve had face-to-face conversations with hundreds of voters over the past few months, in East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and Narragansett. And again and again, I’ve heard the same concerns, worries, and hopes. People want to protect our clean air and water, our beautiful beaches and green spaces. They want gun safety legislation that keeps guns out of our schools and off of our streets. And they want to be able to afford the basics for themselves and their families – housing, health care and education. The status quo in the State House just isn’t working, and Rhode Islanders know it. The amazing results on Primary Day show that voters will turn out when they see a leader who is willing to fight for the things they believe in. And we’re seeing the same story play out all over the country. Like so many Americans, Rhode Islanders expect that their state government will do what it takes to protect them from the Trump agenda. That means protecting reproductive freedom before a new Supreme Court justice votes to overturn Roe v. Wade. It means stopping offshore drilling and other attacks on our local environment. And it means electing a group of leaders who will stand up together for Rhode Island families. After this week, we’re one step closer to doing just that. But the real test is going to be in November."

19. Groups supporting progressives, like RI Working Families Party, RI Now, and the coalition between Planned Parenthood Votes RI! and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, faired well in backing legislative candidates in Wednesday's primary (the conservative Gaspee Project not so much). Yet despite success at the local level, progressives have not been able to find the same sucess in running statewide candidates.

20. Turnout in Wednesday's primary was north of 150,000 -- more than many people expected and close to the 2014 figure of about 161,000. But that's still less than 20 percent of eligible voters in Rhode Island. Here's an NPR report from some different parts of the U.S., including RI, on why turnout is so low, in mid-term elections.