PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Nellie Gorbea has opened up a small lead over incumbent Dan McKee in the Democratic primary for governor, while former CVS executive Helena Foulkes has quickly joined them in the top tier, according to a new poll.
The survey of 353 likely Democratic primary voters by The Boston Globe and Suffolk University finds Gorbea at 24%, McKee at 20% and Foulkes at 16%, with 31% of voters undecided. Matt Brown and Luis Daniel Muñoz remain in single digits.
The Globe/Suffolk poll is the first independent survey in the primary since last month’s 12 News/Roger Williams University poll, which also found a tight race for first place between Gorbea and McKee. The biggest shift since then is the rapid rise of Foulkes, who began a TV advertising campaign on May 17, after the 12 News/RWU poll was conducted.
The cellphone and landline interview poll was conducted June 19 through June 22. The Globe and Suffolk surveyed 800 likely Rhode Island midterm election voters, then broke out subgroups for the primary races. The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 3.5 percentage points, but the margin of error is larger for subgroups.
“The poll shows that Rhode Islanders want a governor they trust to always be on their side and who knows how to get things done for people,” Gorbea’s campaign manager Dana Walton said. “Nellie Gorbea has been in the trenches with community leaders in Rhode Island for more than thirty years, making real progress on critical challenges like housing and defending voting rights and reproductive freedoms.”
Foulkes’ campaign celebrated her surge into double digits.
“While the other candidates have stalled, Helena is surging and our campaign is not slowing down,” spokesperson Audrey Lucas said. “Our path to victory is clear. Over the next few months, Rhode Islanders across the state will get to know Helena even better and learn more about her plans to get big things done for Rhode Island.”
McKee downplayed the results while speaking to reporters at an unrelated event Monday morning.
“Polls come and go, and the campaign has just started,” McKee said. “I don’t really put a lot of stock in any numbers, whether you’re up or you’re down.” He also touted his endorsement from the Democratic Party at its convention Sunday night.
In the race to replace Congressman Jim Langevin, the survey polled 423 voters in the 2nd District and found Republican Allan Fung on top against all six of his potential Democratic opponents, garnering roughly 45% in every matchup.
Fung’s strongest Democratic opponent at the moment is General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, the frontrunner for his party’s nomination, but not by much. The poll shows Fung at 45% and Magaziner at 39% in a hypothetical matchup, with 17% of voters undecided.
But all the Democrats seeking the party’s nomination get about a third of the vote against Fung, with the share of undecided voters rising to slightly more than 20% against Magaziner’s five rivals (Omar Bah, Joy Fox, Cameron Moquin, Sarah Morgenthau and David Segal).
In the Democratic primary for the 2nd District seat, Magaziner has a sizable lead, just as he did in the 12 News/RWU poll.
Among the 172 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed in the Globe/Suffolk poll, 30% are supporting Magaziner, while 8% each are supporting Fox and Segal, and 43% are undecided. Despite being the only candidate airing TV ads, Morgenthau’s support was only 3%, slightly lower what she got in the 12 News/RWU poll and equal to her little-known rivals Bah and Moquin.
Magaziner emphasized his primary lead following the poll’s release, while also highlighting the close potential general election race between him and Fung.
“Nothing would be more disastrous for Rhode Island than if Allan Fung wins in November and helps the right-wing extremists take control of Congress,” spokesperson Patricia Socarras said. “Magaziner will fight to defend the right to choose, protect Americans from gun violence, and reverse the climate crisis by creating clean energy jobs right here in the Ocean State.”
Fung characterized the poll as “rejecting” Magaziner’s agenda, and criticized him for still living outside of the district.
“While Magaziner may visit us from time to time, he does not live in our congressional district and does not understand the priorities of our neighbors,” Fung said. “As a two-term statewide office holder, he barely does better than Sarah Morgenthau, who has never lived here full time and can’t figure out which state she currently lives in to take a homestead exemption.”
(Target 12 reported last week that Morgenthau was still claiming a homestead exemption on her home in Washington D.C., which is only allowed for primary residences. Morgenthau now says she will claim a homestead exemption in North Kingstown.)
Morgenthau’s campaign, in their own statement about the poll, pointed out that Fung did slightly worse in the when put head-to-head with her compared to the other candidates.
“Sarah draws the strongest contrast with Allan Fung, and is best positioned to defeat him this fall,” her campaign manager Bryan McNamara said.
The margin of error for the 2nd District results overall was 4.8 percentage points, and for the Democratic primary in the 2nd District it was 7.5 percentage points.
(Separately, a group that advocates term limits released its own 2nd District Democratic primary poll, conducted by the firm Rasmussen earlier this month. The survey showed Magaziner at 30%, Morgenthau at 9%, Segal at 8%, Fox at 7% and 41% undecided; Bah and Moquin were not included.)
The broader Globe/Suffolk poll of all 800 voters who are likely to cast ballots in the November midterm election finds Rhode Islanders in a frustrated mood.
Just 34% of Rhode Island midterm voters think the state is on right track, while 47% think the state is on the wrong track. That is a slightly worse feeling among the electorate than 12 News/RWU polling showed during the last gubernatorial election cycle four years ago.
McKee’s job approval rating in the poll stands at 40%, with 38% of Rhode Island voters disapproving of his performance and 22% undecided. President Biden’s job approval is about the same as McKee, at 39%, but his disapproval rating is notably higher, coming in at 53%.
While the poll didn’t test McKee’s support for re-election among the broader electorate that will vote in November, it did find that a whopping 69% of Rhode Island voters don’t want Biden to seek a second term in 2024.
By a wide margin, voters said their top issue in this year’s race for governor is the cost of living, chosen by 32% of poll respondents — a similar result as what the 12 News/RWU poll found among primary voters. Education (12%) and health care (11%) were the only other issues cited by a double-digit share of voters.
The poll found 65% of Rhode Island voters said they want the state to ban semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15 and AK-47, while 32% say those firearms should not be banned.
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
An earlier version of this article said Helena Foulkes received 17% in the poll; her percentage in the poll rounds down to 16%, rather than up 17%.