PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — What will Matt Brown do?
For the last two weeks, the 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former secretary of state has not responded to questions about whether he plans to jump into next year’s Democratic primary for governor. But a growing number of political observers are taking the possibility seriously.
The latest evidence of that came in a poll being conducted this week of Democratic primary voters, likely commissioned by General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s campaign based on the questions relayed by people who were surveyed. Brown was included in the list of candidates tested along with Magaziner, incumbent Dan McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and physician activist Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz.
12 News has also learned that consultants have been approached about working for a potential Brown campaign if he runs, according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.
State Sen. Sam Bell, a progressive Democrat from Providence, said Tuesday on Twitter he sees Brown as a potentially viable progressive candidate to take on McKee. The new governor has been increasingly viewed as the favorite since he succeeded Gina Raimondo in March.
An expansion of the Democratic primary field to six people will only further complicate the electoral math for the non-incumbent candidates. 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said the winner could get the nomination with as little as 35% to 40% of the vote, depending on the strength of each campaign.
“There’s no question if you have six candidates, it’s going to put the incumbent governor, Dan McKee, in a lot stronger position,” Fleming said. “He starts off with a base. He is the governor. You can raise the money you need. And the anti-McKee vote is going to be divided up five other ways.”
“You’ve got to give people a reason to change horses in the middle of the field,” he added.
At the same time, Fleming pointed out that the primary is more than a year away, leaving plenty of time for the various current and likely candidates to alter their plans.
“We’re still a long way out, and people’s opinions and thoughts of what they want to do can change between now and last year,” he said.
Brown, 51, first shot to prominence in Rhode Island in 2002, when he defeated an incumbent Democrat to win the secretary of state’s office. He served one term, but exited the spotlight in 2006 after a bid for U.S. Senate was derailed by a fundraising controversy.
After more than a decade out of state politics, Brown unexpectedly returned to center stage in 2018 when he announced he would run against Raimondo, initially as an independent but eventually as a Democrat. He took 34% of the vote in that year’s primary against 57% for Raimondo and 9% for a third candidate, Spencer Dickinson.
Since then, Brown has been involved in multiple progressive projects that have sought to challenge the status quo among local Democrats. They include the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a nonprofit corporation that does paid work for candidates, and Renew Rhode Island, an advocacy group he originally incorporated under the name the Green New England Deal Council.
Georgia Hollister Isman, who leads the Rhode Island Working Families Party, an influential progressive group, suggested multiple candidates would have a case to make to liberal voters.
“Matt Brown would not immediately consolidate the left,” she said. “There are a lot of strong candidates in this field. WFP — and I imagine other groups like mine — would engage in a process, and it’s not clear what the outcome of that process would be.”
Brown’s most recent R.I. Board of Election filing shows he loaned his campaign $10,250 on Jan. 29, using most of the funds to repay two consulting firms. He ended his 2018 primary campaign owing $76,000 to various vendors, an amount he had whittled down to $42,000 as of March 31.
Brown is also listed as a member of the board of directors of the Ecological Citizen’s Project, a nonprofit organization in New York led by Jason Angell, who was a policy advisor on Brown’s 2018 campaign.
If Brown does run, it’s notable that his rivals would include Gorbea, who worked for him as secretary of state and notably declined to endorse Raimondo for re-election when Brown challenged her in 2018.
Asked whether she had spoken to Brown about his potential candidacy, Gorbea told 12 News, “I’m excited to be sharing my vision for governor with the people of Rhode Island and I welcome anyone else into this race that wants to get off the sidelines and do the same.”
So far no Republicans or independents have announced plans to run for governor next year.
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