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TGIF: 24 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media (Peak RI Presidential Edition)

It's peak presidential politics in Rhode Island, with a trio of candidates set to stump in the state this weekend. So thanks for stopping by for my...

It's peak presidential politics in Rhode Island, with a trio of candidates set to stump in the state this weekend. 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. Here we go.

1. With Rhode Island's presidential primary looming on Tuesday, the Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders pits establishment power versus an ornery electorate. On the surface, Clinton has a host of assets, including the staunch backing of Rhode Island's Democratic establishment, and she beat Barack Obama by 18 points here in 2008 even as Obama was steaming toward the White House. But that's a long time ago in politics; Now, the anti-establishment sentiment of voters favors Sanders, even if he remains a big underdog in the battle for the Democratic nomination. The Vermont senator could be poised to put together a coalition of the urban intellectuals and hipsters (who voted for Obama in 2008) with suburban/rural whites (who backed Clinton eight years ago as the more familiar choice). The tightness of the race can be seen in how Clinton's campaign has been making a full-court press as the primary draws close, bringing in a string of surrogates as well as Bill Clinton himself. For all the talk of Rhode Island as Clinton Country, the Democratic front-runner squeaked out a win by less than 2 points in neighboring Massachusetts, where the electorate resembles the Ocean State. Add to that the lingering ill feeling associated with 38 Studios and other boondoggles, and Sanders could emerge as the victor here Tuesday. With voters in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Connecticut also going to the polls, Clinton would like nothing more than to do the political equivalent of stepping on Sanders' neck. The outcome in the five states will shed light on whether Sanders can live to fight another day -- or just bolster leverage for the concerns raised by the impressive success of his unorthodox campaign.

2. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea isn't concerned about how just 144 of 419 polling places -- a close to typical percentage for a presidential primary election in RI -- will be open on Tuesday. Gorbea said she has confidence in how local municipalities and the state Board of Elections pick the sites to be open. "And they're done by accessibility, function and centralized location," she said on this week's RI Political Roundtable. "They also look at voter turnout over previous elections, and so, you'll find that the number of polling places that are open for the presidential primary is not that different than what it was in 2008." 

3. A lot has changed since a young activist named Melba Depena accused the Rhode Island Democratic Party of taking Latinos for granted in 2003. (Then-Chairman Bill Lynch responded by offering Depena a job with the party; she now heads the state Department of Human Services.) More than a dozen years later, Latinos like Gorbea, Angel Taveras, Jorge Elorza, Luis Aponte, and James Diossa are among those who have gained office. Hillary Clinton's campaign has aggressively courted Latinos, opening an office in Central Falls, bringing in surrogates like US Representative Luis Guiterrez of Illinois, running a Spanish-language radio ad criticizing Donald Trump, and staging her Saturday visit at Central Falls High School. (For more on how the presidential campaigns are reaching out to Latinos in RI, listen to my RIPR story that aired Thursday.) Back in 2002, the Latino vote on Providence's South Side was credited with lifting Myrth York over Sheldon Whitehouse in a razor-thin Democratic gubernatorial primary. So with Sanders making a strong case in Rhode Island, will the Latino vote ultimately help him or boost Clinton?

4. US Representative Jim Langevin has a formidable $796,151 war chest as he gears up for his eighth re-election campaign, according to a March 31 filing with the Federal Election Commission. (Rival Democrat Steve Archer does not appear to have filed any paperwork with the FEC.) In CD1, US Representative David Cicilline had a $678,499 campaign balance as of March 31. Republican Karen MacBeth did not report any fundraising activity to the FEC by that date, while fellow GOP candidate Russell Taub reported a balance of $8,051.

5. Secretary of State Gorbea, an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter, maintains there's nothing wrong with an elected official with a putatively non-partisan role -- like her -- making political endorsements. "We have a very transparent election system, and so I may have my own personal supports as an individual," Gorbea said on this week's RIPR Bonus Q&A. "But other people are really running the day of elections -- you have local boards of canvassers, you've got the state Board of Elections that actually oversees the day of election. So I don't see that as a conflict per se." 

6. Donald Trump is expected to cruise to victory on the Republican side of Rhode Island's presidential primary. As we reported earlier this month, local Trump supporters point to his outsider status, business experience, and perceived decisiveness in explaining why the brash New Yorker is their guy. But what are Trump opponents to do? It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, yet Andrew Morse makes the case that voting for Ted Cruz is the most strategic choice for stop-Trump voters. (Short version: "if Cruz misses the 10% threshold, even if Kasich gets all of the votes that Cruz would have, Trump will still do better than he would if Cruz gets to 10%.") A related question: to what extent will independents -- the state's largest bloc of voters -- cast tallies in the Republican primary to either support Trump or to vote against him?

7. One of the important legacies from Bernie Sanders' 2016 run is the example he offered on campaign finance. As The New York Times editorialized on Wednesday, "Mr. Sanders’s commitment to small individual contributions has put the lie to Democrats’ excuses that they, too, must play the big money game to win. This is a message too seldom heard in the party that first championed campaign finance reform." So what's the way forward for reformers in a landscape governed by the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision? (Back in 2005 -- before Citizens United -- Common Cause of RI was backing a so-called "Clean Elections" proposal meant to create a more level political playing field.) As Common Cause Executive Director John Marion notes, the group "abandoned efforts to enact a small dollar matching system in 2011 when the Supreme Court rendered some parts of our proposal unconstitutional. Common Cause is in the early stages of reviving that effort with a new proposal, beginning with our statewide offices. At this point we're researching the participation in and cost of our existing system. Our goal is to propose a small dollar matching program for statewide offices that includes primaries in the 2017 General Assembly session."

8. Curt Schilling's controversial remarks about transgender individuals have filtered into the presidential race, with Ted Cruz slamming ESPN's move to fire Schilling. So maybe it's a good time to revisit reporting, like Elisabeth Harrison's dispatch on the bullying faced by a transgender youth in Pawtucket, that sheds a different light on the situation.

9. Burrillville Town Councilor David Place, who is running as a Republican against state Rep. Cale Keable (D-Burrillville) said he -- like the rest of the council -- remains neutral, for now, about Invenergy's proposed energy plant in the town in the state's northwestern corner. Place said the council hired a group of experts to vet the plan -- and that the timeline for getting answers depends on Invenergy's response time. Keable and Sen. Paul Fogarty recently came out against the proposal.

10. Compensation for Kirk Davis, the CEO of ProJo owner GateHouse Media, reportedly climbed to $2.1 million in 2015, up from about $917,000 in 2014.

11. Media critic Dan Kennedy, a professor at Northeastern University, has a must-read about Facebook and the social network's impact on other media. The headline -- "Facebook has become the Internet -- and that's bad for news" -- gives you a sense of the gist. Also revealing is this quote from Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School's Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “Social media and platform companies”—but mainly Facebook— “took over what publishers couldn’t have built even if they wanted to,” Bell [said]. “Now the news is filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable.” It's enough for a fresh recitation of Pogo's classic line: "We have met the enemy and he is us." I mean, sure, there were times when I walked away from Facebook because of the dizziness caused by its constant iterations. Yet Facebook is where the eyeballs are, so I place my stories there -- just like so many other media organizations.

12. SOS Gorbea said she's "cautiously optimistic" that most legislative concerns have been satisfied about her proposed lobbying overhaul, and that it will get "very strong consideration" this session. Asked about the delay in moving the overhaul forward, Gorbea said, "I don't think there's so much anything holding it back, it's just the legislative session has its own rhythm." She spoke during this week's RIPR Bonus Q&A. The need for the overhaul can be seen in how the weakness of the state's lobbing regulation led to the dropping of two cases related to 38 Studios last year.

13. For an outsider critic of state government like Ken Block, legislative grants are a natural target; they reflect the top-down hierarchy of the General Assembly. Governor Raimondo's office this week said it's going to look into Block's concerns about the grants. Yet it's worth wondering if the governor really wants to pick a fight with legislative leaders over a program that also benefits nonprofit groups throughout the state.

14. The estimable former ProJo news editor Len Levin, retired ProJo feature writer Arline Fleming, and the late, great Jim Baron are this year's inductees for the Rhode Island Press Association Hall of Fame. The inductees will be recognized during RIPA's annual awards banquet, April 29, at the Quonset O Club.

15. Governor Raimondo will play "Not My Job" with NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me when WWDTM is in Providence at the PPAC on May 12. (The event is sold out; sorry.)

16. General Assembly: There's a third Democrat candidate in the race for the Warwick seat held by Rep. Eileen Naughton. David Kruzona labels himself as a candidate, via FB, and he's taken the unusual step of using a page to raise money ($225 so far, with a goal of $2,500), with this message: "Are you sick of political hacks taking over this country and running our state into the ground?  Our current rep has voted for higher sales tax, keeping the auto excise tax, adding tolls on the roadways, corrupt speaker of the house Gordon Fox, current bully speaker of the house Nick Mattiello, 38 studios, paying off 38 studios, and every bad decision that our state has made for the past 24 years.  Time has come to tell her to go... I am a hard working father who will represent the constituents and vote the way they want me to, not the way the party leaders tell me to...I will stand up for you...but I need help...this is being paid for out of my pockets and they are not very me run ads, post signs, and walk house to house giving out flyers telling every voter what she has done...every dollar helps and every dollar will be used to take back our country...Thanks for your support." As first reported by TGIF last year, Warwick councilor Camille Vella-Wilkinson is also running against Naughton, a longtime incumbent.

17: General Assembly II : Democrat Julie Casimiro, who lost to Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown) by about 357 votes in 2014, announced plans this week for a rematch. "Running again was not part of my plan as my family commitments have been exhausting, but the groundswell of support for me to do so has been absolutely overwhelming, from within the district and throughout the state," Casimiro said in a news release. Costa serves as vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee and is known as an energetic campaigner.

18. Personal income for Rhode Islanders has grown by 1.9 percent over the last year, according to a new analysis by Pew. That's not great, but it's not awful, either. (Not surprisingly, the annualized growth rate since the 4th quarter is a more anemic 1.2 percent.)

19. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse predicted a few months back that Paul Ryan would emerge as the Republican presidential nominee. So when the senator sat down for a Q&A at RIPR on April 15 (before the New York primary), I asked Whitehouse whether he still expected that to happen. He laughed and then offered this response: "You know, how could he not be interested? He has to say 'no' at this stage. I think a Trump candidacy or a Cruz candidacy would be pretty devastating. Just among my Republican colleagues, they are not looking forward to either candidacy." So is Ryan going to be the nominee? "I don't know. Kasich is a possibility. I think Ryan's got as good a shot as anybody right now, and I think he has a better shot in November than Cruz or Trump do. He'd be a worthy adversary."

20. Voice of America offers a visually rich spread on the long history of Syrian-Americans in Rhode Island. In fact, VOA reports, RI ("Middle East Meets Northeast") has the greatest per-capita proportion of Syrian-Americans in the US.

21. Steve Kornacki's crew at MSNBC has been kind enough to invite me on a few times to discuss Rhode Island's presidential primary, and I'm slated to back on Monday, some time between 9 and 10 a.m.  10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Fun Fact on Kornacki: he hails from Groton, Massachusetts -- the same place that produced Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy and the great baseball observer Peter Gammons; must be something in the water there.

22. Bert Crenca, one of the founders of the AS220, the crucially important Providence arts organization, is among those due to receive honorary degrees at Brown University next month. He's in good company with a neurobiologist, a Nobel-winning economist, and a doctor/humanitarian, among others.

23. Everything you ever wanted to know about Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) (h/t Aaron Renn.)

24. Rest in peace, Prince. He was one of the greats, a supernova of musical creativity and an iconic figure for those of us who came of age in the 1980s.

TGIF: 24 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media (Peak RI Presidential Edition)
TGIF: 24 Things To Know About Rhode Island Politics & Media (Peak RI Presidential Edition)