5 Primary Day Takeaways

With mail ballots still being certified, we’re still not at the end of this primary, but we can at least learn a few lessons. So here they are:

Strongholds matter.

Allan Fung’s triumph over Ken Block in the GOP gubernatorial primary came largely because of Fung’s strength in Cranston. Of the 3,079 votes he currently has over Block, Cranston made up 1,971 (64%) of those votes. Cranston is a dominant Republican stronghold. The other major source of Republican votes is Warwick, and there Fung and Block split the vote 51-49. The story is pretty much the same across the state; Fung either triumphs handily over Block or else holds the man to a narrow win or a large win in small towns.

The story of Dan McKee’s triumph for lieutenant governor is similar. Of the close to 8,500 votes he got over Mollis, nearly 2,500 came from his Cumberland home (McKee has been Mayor of Cumberland for the last 13 years). While Mollis did manage to win in North Providence where he used to be mayor, he didn’t do so overwhelmingly. McKee was also able to make up a large deficit in Providence by racking up sizable wins in other large cities and towns in the state.

It’s good to have a stronghold that you can use to run a campaign from. Having a large bloc of voters already very much committed to you is a strong place to build a campaign from. And it’s even better if you can get into an opponent’s potential stronghold and poach votes from there.

Case in point: the defeat of Angel Taveras in Providence. Taveras should have been able to overwhelming win the city and used that strength to blunt Raimondo’s popularity elsewhere in the peripheral towns. But Gina Raimondo’s campaign never ceded the city, and instead outright beat Taveras in many precincts or else kept Taveras to a close lead. The presence of Clay Pell also likely bled support away from the Mayor.

Public polling isn’t very useful for observers.

Credit where credit is due, Fleming and Associates did point to the lack of firmness in Pell and Taveras supporters, as well as the large number of undecideds. But ultimately, the August WPRI-12/The Providence Journal poll was off by roughly 10 pts from the final result. Where polling was predicting a narrow victory, we instead had a convincing plurality. Except for the treasurer’s race, in lower-profile Democratic match-ups, the poll left you with the wrong impression: that Guillaume de Ramel was projected to beat Nellie Gorbea and A. Ralph Mollis was to defeat Dan McKee and Frank Ferri.

Whether polling is actually adding anything useful to the race (and it’s unreliability) ought to be considered as it continues throughout the next couple of months. Also watch to see if the Taubman Center actually gets out there, and whether their new operation is better than the roundly-criticized previous one.

EDIT: For an alternative take, here’s a string of Ted Nesi tweets:


The Caprios are finished for a generation.

Just over four years ago, the Caprios looked a like power family on the rise. The Judge had his popular cable-access television show, David was in the legislature, and treasurer Frank looked set to waltz down the hall to the Governor’s office. The Judge remains on the tee-vee, but David resigned the party chairmanship in disgrace over insider dealing of state concession stand contracts, and Frank so sullied his standing as a Democrat that he was buried in a landslide. It’s hard to see how the Caprios find a way to recover from this.

Money Photo
(Photo by 2bgr8STOCK, retrieved via Wikimedia Commons)

Wealth is not a sure-fire path to victory.

Despite my cynically declaring them such, it turns out that rich white men are not superheroes. Pell burned $3.4 million to come in third, de Ramel failed to win despite a cash and name-recognition advantage, and Block apparently failed to convince Republican voters he really could — say it with me, in 3… 2… 1 — save them ONE BILLION DOLLARS! Elsewhere, Chris Wall’s massive cash-assistance from the National Realtors led him to a landslide defeat against incumbent Gayle Goldin.

The line I usually trot out in this situation is this paraphrased quote from Voltaire: “God is not on the side of the big battalions, but the best shots.” Ideally, you want to be on the Raimondo side of things: you have both the biggest battalions and best shots. But if you can’t have that, try to have the latter rather than the former.

Progressives are disorganized.

NEARI’s decision to go its own way this primary season can certainly make sense when they give their reasons, and on a candidate-by-candidate basis, okay. But they made some strategic missteps here, and the Pell campaign and the collaboration with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to out Rep. Maria Cimini has no doubt soured their relationships with their natural progressive allies.

The lack of a group like Ocean State Action to bring myriad progressive interests to the table to work out differences and make sure the Democratic Party’s left wing is pulling together rather than apart is particularly troublesome. The assumption by any progressive group that it can make a decision and the others will line up behind them puts hubris on display. And ultimately, it’s left them all weaker when resources that should have been going towards building a better Rhode Island are instead wasted trying to tear one another down.

Anyhow, play us out, Pink Floyd.


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