1. Seth Magaziner starts his run for Congress with some obvious liabilities: he was running for governor until a few minutes ago, he doesn’t live in the district he wants to represent, and he’s got less than eight months to raise the money to win the primary. Yet the fact that various high-level Democrats still pushed him to jump into the race shows just how much concern there is among party poohbahs about the possibility Republicans could win a U.S. House race in Rhode Island for the first time since 1992. Magaziner hopes traditional party allegiances will carry him across the finish line, saying at his kickoff news conference, “Trump is not going away. Kevin McCarthy is not going away … We can’t mess around and we have to hold this seat.” The treasurer is now the most high-profile Democrat in the race, with a built-in campaign apparatus from his erstwhile gubernatorial bid and the fundraising network to raise money quickly. His team got some good news Friday, as one of his better-known potential rivals — state Sen. Joshua Miller of Cranston — announced he was staying out of the primary. But Magaziner hasn’t cleared the field: former Rep. Ed Pacheco launched on Monday with a glossy video, two days after Refugee Dream Center founder Omar Bah announced his candidacy. (In a statement welcoming Magaziner to the race, Pacheco pointedly noted that he is “a lifelong resident of the 2nd Congressional District.”) A number of others say they are still considering a run, including Rep. Teresa Tanzi, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, former Langevin staffer Joy Fox, political operative Michael Neary, and former state Sen. Jim Sheehan. With the primary in a little over seven months, our longtime political analyst Joe Fleming says would-be candidates need to make decisions quickly. “Whoever’s going to run really needs to announce in the next couple weeks,” he said.
2. Joe Fleming offers one theory on how Seth Magaziner can quickly establish a financial advantage in the 2nd District race: use some of the $1.6 million in his state campaign-finance account to repay himself the $700,000 personal loan he made to his first treasurer campaign back in 2014, then turn around and put that $700,000 into his new congressional campaign account. Is such a two-step on the table? “Since Seth announced for Congress, we have been inundated with positive responses from supporters asking how they can help ensure we keep this seat in Democratic hands,” says Magaziner spokesperson Patricia Socarras. “We are currently focused on working with supporters who have donated to Seth’s previous campaigns who wish for their contributions to be refunded and contributed to Seth’s campaign for Congress. In the coming months, we will consult with campaign finance experts to ensure we comply with every state and federal law.” Update: GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias flags a 1992 state law limiting Magaziner (or any other candidate) to repaying $200,000 in personal loans during a single election cycle, so that would be the limit for him on this move.
3. Another prominent name still hasn’t announced her decision about a run for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd District: now-former Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. It was quite a final week in the job for the health director, who started off with a boomlet of interest in her potential run, then quickly found herself facing scrutiny over her $46,000-a-month post-director consulting contract. She defended the deal in an interview with my colleague Shiina LoSciuto, saying, “The expertise that’s necessary for anyone in this field at this time is something that certainly was taken into account when the governor offered this. My goal is to be able to provide the support setup for the smoothest transition possible.” If nothing else, the controversy over the contract gave Alexander-Scott a taste of the rough-and-tumble of the campaign trail if she were to become a declared candidate. She didn’t respond to a request for comment late this week about her thinking and the timing of her decision.
4. On the Republican side of the aisle, meanwhile, a multi-way primary for the 2nd District nomination is shaping up. Former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the potential GOP nominee who seems to make top Democrats the most nervous, has begun talking to potential consultants as he moves closer to officially entering the race. State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz announced last Sunday night she’s running, saying she had already garnered over $100,000 in financial pledges to support her candidacy. And former state Rep. Bob Lancia continues to emphasize the fact that he was in the race even before Jim Langevin decided to retire. “Despite many other Republicans up and down the ticket who have expressed interest in this seat, Lancia is still the only candidate to have filed with the FEC,” his campaign noted in a statement Friday. Ian Donnis reports state Rep. Patricia Morgan is considering a run, too. One thing to keep in mind: while the Democratic and Republican primaries will be held on the same day, the GOP candidates will be wooing a much smaller universe of voters to win the nomination. In 2018, for example, only about 15,000 ballots were cast in the uncontested GOP primary for the 2nd District, compared with almost 45,000 in the uncontested Democratic primary. Competitive primary races should bring more voters to the polls this year, certainly, but that gives you a rough sense of the gap in participation.
5. Some Democrats have grumbled that Jim Langevin did their party no favors by waiting until now to announce his retirement, with the redistricting process largely complete and only months to go before the primary. But Langevin doesn’t see it that way. “One of the reasons I made the announcement and the decision in January is that I wanted to give the party plenty of time to come up with the strongest possible nominee,” he said on this week’s Newsmakers, noting that the filing period isn’t until late June. With the field of potential successors still taking shape, Langevin said he hasn’t made a decision yet on whether he’ll endorse in the primary, though he left the door open to the possibility. And if Seth Magaziner is taking the incumbent’s advice, he’s going to want to hire a Realtor before long to find a new house on the right side of the district lines. “I absolutely think candidates should live in the 2nd Congressional District,” Langevin said, while adding, “you know, Rhode Island is kind of one big neighborhood anyway.” As for the idea of Langevin becoming the next president of Rhode Island College, which has been floated by Dan McGowan among others, the Class of 1990 graduate is clearly intrigued. “I have heard the buzz out there, too, and I have talked to a couple people who have approached me about, ‘Hey, is this something that you would consider?'” Langevin said. “It’s certainly something that I would have to consider — I’m so proud of my alma mater. … But leading the college, that’s something that would have to be explored, and obviously I’m not the person that decides that.”
6. And then there were five: Seth Magaziner’s decision to jump into the 2nd District primary leaves four Democrats challenging Dan McKee in the gubernatorial primary: Matt Brown, Nellie Gorbea, Helena Foulkes and Luis Daniel Muñoz. Without polling, it’s hard to say exactly what the effect will be of a smaller field. One certainty is that Magaziner’s absence pulls a bunch of money out of the gubernatorial primary, since he was the best-funded of the candidates. (New fundraising numbers arrive next week.) Magaziner had also racked up a number of endorsements from unions and state lawmakers — they are now free agents, and will be wooed by the other campaigns. McKee’s team is hoping some of the labor support that had been with Magaziner could migrate to the governor, for example. Magaziner’s exit leaves Gorbea as the only other current officeholder in the race, which could be an asset for her, particularly if her internal polling showing her a strong second to McKee was accurate. (Gorbea rolled out a new website with an expanded policy platform on Friday.) As for the others, Foulkes — who, like Magaziner, toyed with a switch to the 2nd District race — remains well funded but ill-defined so far; Brown isn’t going to let anyone out-progressive him; and Muñoz is hoping voters will look past the higher-profile candidates and take a shot on him. An important reality check, though: it’s only January, the primary isn’t until September, and many voters aren’t going to really tune in until the campaign heats up during the late spring and summer.
7. Even before a flake had fallen, this weekend’s blizzard had already upended Governor McKee’s schedule. McKee had been set to fly to Washington for a weekend of events tied to the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, including a Friday night DGA fundraiser alongside fellow Democratic governors (invite via Punchbowl News). McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff said the governor scrapped the first part of the trip after receiving a storm briefing on Thursday, and is currently expecting to remain in Rhode Island for the duration, though his advisers are holding out hope McKee might be able to get to D.C. in time to see President Biden on Sunday night (for a reception) and Monday (a meeting).
8. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “With Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott out the door, all eyes are now on her interim replacement: Dr. James McDonald. The Health Department’s medical director is taking over the day-to-day responsibilities of state health director while a panel put together by Gov. Dan McKee searches for a permanent replacement. McDonald, a pediatrician by trade, has become a well-known figure during the pandemic, filling in for Alexander-Scott during news conferences as her No. 2. But it remains unclear whether he’d even consider serving in the department’s top job permanently if the opportunity presented itself. ‘I’m not trying to be ambiguous with anyone,’ McDonald said on 12 News at 4 this week. ‘What I’m really about is state service, so I need to evaluate: what’s the best way for Jim McDonald to do that.’ Regardless of who he picks, McKee’s choice will have to be confirmed by the state Senate, where Democratic leaders say they want a permanent replacement in place by the end of the legislative session. ‘The choice of a new director will be so important for our state,’ Senate President Dominick Ruggerio tweeted, linking to a newsletter seeking feedback on what people are looking for in a new leader.”
9. A new poll confirms what seems to be the general consensus among local parents: remote learning has not worked well for schoolchildren. The survey by Bryant’s Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership, conducted by Fleming & Associates, found two-thirds of parents are very or somewhat concerned that their child fell behind academically due to the disruption of in-person schooling caused by the pandemic, and a similar share expect the problem to get worse if remote learning resumes. “That is a red flag to me that we probably need to look a lot closer at what we’re doing to catch kids up,” Hassenfeld Institute chief Gary Sasse told my colleague Tolly Taylor. At the same time, the poll found broad satisfaction among Rhode Island parents at the ground level, with 85% saying they are very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of education at their child’s school and 77% rating their local teachers’ job performance as excellent or good. That’s despite the fact that nearly half of parents gave Rhode Island’s public education system overall a grade of “C” or lower. You can see the full survey results here.
10. A story you might have missed last night: the state has ended its controversial education consulting contract with ILO Group. Tim White will have more Monday at 5.
11. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s announcement this week that the state has settled with multiple defendants in years-long litigation over the opioid crisis garnered big headlines for the dollar figure attached — $114 million so far, most of it from three major distributors, and all of which will be used by state and municipal officials to abate the overdose crisis. But that still might not be the sum total of what Rhode Island gets from the various defendants being targeted over the crisis. Neronha has been aggressively critical of the proposed multistate bankruptcy settlement with Perdue Pharma and the Sackler family, saying it lets them off too easily, and a judge has blocked it from taking effect. (That decision is under appeal.) Separately, the state is moving toward a March trial date against Teva, the Israeli pharmaceutical company, over its role in the crisis.
12. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sheldon Whitehouse will likely be in the spotlight over the coming months as Democrats work to fill retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat. But Jack Reed can claim an even closer connection to the justice: Breyer was one of Reed’s advisors at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, before his appointment to the high court.
13. New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell won’t be a candidate for Massachusetts attorney general this year, per Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky. And in Fall River, former Mayor Jasiel Correia got his prison date pushed back again.
14. Monday would have been the 107th birthday of one of Rhode Island’s greatest musicians, the late jazz trumpeter Bobby Hackett — and even if you don’t know his playing, you may recognize his name because it graces the theater at CCRI in Warwick. Listen to him here backing up Tony Bennett on “The Very Thought of You.”
15. If you’re reading this, hopefully it means you still have power despite the mammoth winter storm being forecast as this column was being put to bed. Our 12 News team has you covered with all the storm coverage you need: in addition to our on-air reports (streaming here), our home page has the latest blizzard news, our weather team’s current forecasts and blog posts are here, and you can download our smartphone weather app here. Also be sure to follow our weather team on Twitter. And if you’re going stir crazy and want to think about something other than snow for a bit, head over to the Target 12 page and catch up on what our investigative team has been up to. Keep those phones charged!
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — Congressman Jim Langevin. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 or 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes. See you back here next Saturday.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook