PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Republican Robert Lancia thinks 20 years is too long to be in Congress.
It’s one of the top reasons he gives for challenging James Langevin for the Democrat’s long-held seat in the U.S House of Representatives, even calling the launch of his campaign a “retirement tour” for the 56-year-old congressman.
“It was a little tongue-in-cheek,” Lancia, 66, told 12 News. “Good time for him to retire, to leave, he’s maxed out his pension.”
Langevin, who has represented Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District since 2001, is running for an 11th term in the House and argues his two decades of experience in Washington is an asset.
“The people of Rhode Island have placed their trust in me time and time again,” Langevin told 12 News. “They know that I’ve been accessible and responsive, that I’ve been working hard and fighting hard for them in Washington.”
Langevin says he is currently focused on getting coronavirus relief to Rhode Island workers and small businesses, as Republicans and Democrats in Washington are locked in negotiations over what should be in another multitrillion-dollar stimulus package.
He said he agrees with House leadership that the package should include funds for state and municipal governments to balance their decimated budgets; tax revenues and other sources of funding are down because of the pandemic.
“I do believe aid to states and municipalities that are hemorrhaging red ink right now is so important because if we don’t get additional aid for states and municipalities isn’t going to mean layoffs,” Langevin said. “Front-line workers; police, fire, teachers perhaps. I don’t want to see that happen.”
Lancia disagrees. The former GOP state representative says he supports a Rand Paul-esque brand of libertarian Republicanism emphasizing balanced budgets and elimination of the national debt. States — including Rhode Island — need to cut their bloated budgets rather than asking for a bail out, he argues.
“Did anybody get laid off during this pandemic in the state government? Did anyone take a pay cut? Any of the speaker’s top people?” Lancia asked. “No one has suffered in state government.”
He had fought unsuccessfully during his two terms in the R.I. House to establish an independent office of inspector general, which would have sought to root out waste, fraud and abuse in government. He said a study by such an office could determine whether the state government and the General Assembly need all the employees they have on the payroll.
Lancia lost his 2018 re-election bid to Democrat Chris Millea, who in turn lost his own primary this year for the same Cranston District 16 seat. (Lancia’s wife, Maryann Lancia, is now running as a Republican for her husband’s old seat, against Democrat Brandon Potter.)
Lancia’s campaign platform now includes term limits, support for police and eliminating the national debt.
Langevin said in addition to the coronavirus pandemic, in a potential 11th term he’s focused on lowering the “high cost of prescription drugs” and keeping in place the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“Right now we’re potentially in danger of the Affordable Care Act being ruled unconstitutional,” Langevin said, referring to a Supreme Court case scheduled to be heard in November, when the court may include President Trump’s latest nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. “That would be disastrous, especially for people with pre-existing conditions — people like myself, by the way — that would be very difficult or expensive if they could even get health insurance.”
Lancia, for his part, doesn’t echo the traditional Republican line on seeking to repeal the 10-year-old health care law.
“I don’t think it necessarily should be repealed, because we don’t have anything to replace it,” Lancia said. And in his campaign literature he pledges support for mandatory health insurance coverage, a now-defunct facet of the Affordable Care Act typically derided by Republicans.
“It’s what a system would look like, and how you would fund it, that is where the hard work has to take place,” he said.
Lancia does plan to align with Republicans in voting for President Trump this November, but he didn’t offer full-throated support of the president, calling the White House’s coronavirus response “uneven.”
“He probably should’ve probably told people to continue to be concerned, to wear their masks and social distance,” Lancia said, in response how Trump spoke about the virus upon returning to large campaign rallies after his own bout with COVID-19.
“If it’s a choice between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, I am going to have to side with President Trump,” Lancia said. “This is a seminal election, this is capitalism versus socialism. And I’m afraid that if Vice President Biden gets elected we’re going to go the way of Venezuela, Cuba, down that road.”
He made similar comments in The Providence Journal recently in reference to his own race, even though Langevin is hardly pegged as a member of the more leftist wing of his party.
“He votes with the Democrats, they’re going down the road of AOC and that crowd,” Lancia said, referring to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “He’s not a socialist per se, but he’s going to go along with the socialist move of the party.”
Langevin — a Biden supporter — said he sees himself as a moderate.
“It’s just so important to be able to find common ground,” Langevin said. “I will work with anyone, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. Certainly I believe in the values of fighting for working families, and yet we also have to work across the aisle.”
Langevin has a hefty financial advantage over Lancia in the race, with $1.1 million in his campaign account at the last reporting period against Lancia’s $23,000, much of which Lancia loaned to himself. The incumbent congressman has TV ads running and says he is mainly campaigning virtually, with some in-person events, while Lancia said he is going door-to-door as much as he can, keeping in mind the health precautions.
“Some people, I go up to their door, I got my mask on and they go, ‘if you don’t take that mask off I won’t talk to you,'” Lancia said. “Then I’ve got other people when I’m a distance away, they say ‘if you don’t put your mask on I won’t talk to you.'”
Langevin also laments that politicization of masks, and is critical of Trump’s response to the virus.
“It’s been disappointing that we’ve had such a disjointed response,” Langevin said. “He has some of the best experts that he could draw upon for their advice, but he doesn’t take or listen to their advice very often.”
Below, watch full interviews with Democrat Jim Langevin and Republican Bob Lancia, candidates for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District. The interviews were conducted late last week.