PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Incumbent Gov. Dan McKee and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea are still locked in a close Democratic primary race, as a substantial bloc of voters remain undecided with one month to go, an exclusive 12 News/Roger Williams University poll released Tuesday shows.

The survey of 405 likely Rhode Island Democratic primary voters finds McKee at 28% and Gorbea at 25%, while 21% of voters are undecided. McKee’s lead over Gorbea is within the margin of error.

The only Democrat to see a statistically significant change in support since the May 12 News/RWU poll — which also had McKee narrowly ahead — was former CVS executive Helena Foulkes. The new survey finds Foulkes’ support rising to 14%, up from 6% in May, mirroring what other polls have shown.

The other two Democratic candidates are still in single-digits: former Secretary of State Matt Brown is at 8%, and community activist Luis Daniel Muñoz is at 1%.

“Right now this race looks very tight,” said 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducted the poll. The primary is Sept. 13.

“What we’re finding is there is not a lot of enthusiasm for voting in the Democratic primary,” Fleming said. “People are more concerned about gas prices and groceries in the summer.”

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The cellphone and landline interview poll was conducted Aug. 7 through Aug. 10 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.9 percentage points, but 6.2 points in the 2nd District. Fleming has been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1984.

With just a three-point gap separating the two frontrunners, Rhode Islanders are likely to see an intense four-week sprint to the Sept. 13 primary as McKee and Gorbea tried to secure a lasting advantage and the other candidates work to pull into contention.

“I would assume the candidates are really going to load their campaign advertising from Sept. 1 all the way to Sept. 12 right before the primary, trying to get as much as they can,” Fleming said.

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There is plenty of room for movement over the final month.

The poll finds only 36% of likely primary voters who are currently backing a candidate say they will definitely vote for that candidate, while 17% say they are “pretty unlikely” to change their minds. But 42% of voters who are currently backing a candidate say there is a good chance they could change their minds.

“That’s why these next four weeks will be critical for these candidates,” Fleming said. “If someone could come up with some issues that could move these voters, they could take votes away from a particular candidate and move it to them.”

McKee has the most locked-in support among the Democrats, but even in his case, just 43% of current McKee backers say they will definitely vote for him on Sept. 13. Even fewer current Gorbea and Foulkes voters — only about one in three — say they will definitely stick with them.

“A poll is nothing more than a snapshot in time of when it is taken,” Fleming said. “People’s minds change. There is still four weeks to the primary — people’s minds could change in the next four weeks.”

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Multiple campaigns are revving up their paid media this week, as they also continue making public appearances and sending out grassroots supporters to knock on doors.

Outside groups affiliated with the Laborers union disclosed Tuesday that they are pouring $500,000 into the race to help McKee over the finish line. Gorbea is tripling her TV advertising buy, while Brown plans to begin airing his first TV commercial on Wednesday.

12 News will host a live televised Democratic primary debate in prime time on Sept. 6, one week before the primary election.

McKee took office as Rhode Island’s governor in March 2021, succeeding Gina Raimondo after she resigned to join President Biden’s cabinet. That has given him a platform to introduce himself to voters over the last year and a half that his rivals have lacked.

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The 12 News/RWU poll shows 53% of likely Democratic primary voters have a favorable view of McKee, while 23% have an unfavorable view of him. Notably, nearly one in four primary voters — 24% — still haven’t formed an opinion about the sitting governor.

Fleming described the numbers as solid for McKee, and said the incumbent may have benefited from the response to his well-received first TV commercial, which featured his 94-year-old mother. McKee has also been far more visible than his leading rivals lately.

“Dan McKee in the last three or four weeks has been on TV every single day,” Fleming said.

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Gorbea isn’t as well known as McKee, with 40% of primary voters saying they don’t have an opinion about her. Among those who do, 46% view Gorbea favorably and 14% view her negatively.

Fleming said Gorbea’s numbers are “decent,” since the sitting secretary of state has a much lower profile than the sitting governor. Still, he said, “There was still a good number of people who did not know who she was.”

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Foulkes, who has never run for office before, is even less known to voters than Gorbea. A majority — 52% — say they still have no opinion of Foulkes, even after she has spent over $1 million airing TV campaign ads since May.

Among those who have an opinion, 33% view Foulkes favorably and 15% view her negatively.

Fleming said both Gorbea and Foulkes may find it challenging to build up their name recognition at this point, in part because they have already spent so much of their campaign cash while remaining unknown to a significant group of primary voters.

“They’re all doing TV now, but keep in mind, we are in the middle of summer, getting toward the end of summer,” he said, adding, “You have to do a lot of advertising to get your message across.”

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The winner of the Democratic primary for governor will go on to face the Republican nominee. Political newcomer Ashley Kalus — who has been airing TV commercials since April and is budgeting over $2.5 million for advertising through the November election — is viewed as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

Kalus faces Jonathan Riccitelli in the GOP primary on Sept. 13.

Magaziner maintains huge lead for Congress

In Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner continues to be the runaway favorite to win the Democratic nomination to succeed Jim Langevin, who is retiring.

The survey sampled 252 likely Democratic primary voters in the 2nd District and found Magaziner at 37%, up from 33% in May. Sarah Morgenthau and David Segal were tied for a distant second, at 8% each, followed by Joy Fox at 4%, Omar Bah at 3%, and Spencer Dickinson at 1%. However, 37% of voters are still undecided.

“Right now Seth Magaziner is still sitting pretty at this point,” Fleming said.

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Matos still ahead for lieutenant governor

McKee’s elevation to the governor’s office last year also opened up his former position as Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor. McKee tapped fellow Democrat Sabina Matos, who was then president of the Providence City Council, to replace him in the state’s No. 2 job.

The poll shows most likely Democratic primary voters aren’t tuned into the race for lieutenant governor yet, with little change since May. A majority — 51% — say they are still undecided about who to support.

Among the three Democratic candidates, Matos leads with 23%, up from 21% in May. State Rep. Deb Ruggiero stayed roughly steady at 14%, while state Sen. Cynthia Mendes slipped to 9%.

The three Democrats met for their first televised debate on 12 News earlier this month, and Ruggiero has aired TV commercials sporadically since the spring. But Fleming said the contest to lead a low-profile office isn’t a priority for voters.

“None of the candidates have been spending lots of money on paid media,” he said. “They are out there greeting the voters, talking to voters, but they’re not reaching that huge audience at this point.”

Coming up on Wednesday night: who’s ahead in the Democratic primary for general treasurer?

Ted Nesi ( 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.

Tim White ( is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.