Nesi’s Notes: Aug. 15

Ted Nesi
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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. During a late July taping of Newsmakers, Tim White asked Governor Raimondo about speculation that she was in the running to be Joe Biden’s running mate. “I’m wondering if you’ve talked to Mr. Biden, or has anyone in his campaign reached out to you?” Tim asked. “I haven’t,” Raimondo replied. Well, The New York Times has now revealed not just that Raimondo was one of about a dozen women interviewed by Biden’s search team, but that she “dazzled” the group. That interview took place remotely — Raimondo never flew to Delaware — and was so hush-hush that many members of her own staff learned about it from The Times. The governor apparently got more than a cursory vetting, too, which explains why plugged-in national reporters were still referring to her as a “dark horse” and a “sleeper” candidate last month. No surprise: Biden’s team didn’t wind up advancing a candidate viewed warily by the left who hails from a tiny, reliably blue state. But Raimondo’s outperformance in the veepstakes raises the odds that she’ll be a serious contender for a position in the cabinet should Biden win. Treasury secretary seems out of her reach, but commerce secretary comes up frequently as a possibility. Another intriguing option: transportation secretary, expected to be a busy job in a Biden administration. Recall that Biden visited Rhode Island to help Raimondo push for RhodeWorks, and the multibillion-dollar infrastructure program is a cornerstone of her governorship. She’s also a favorite of the building trades unions, who depend on transportation projects for jobs, and is close to the department’s top Democratic appropriator in the Senate, Jack Reed. Still, those close to the governor insist she values her current job enough that she wouldn’t automatically give it up for just any post in a Biden administration — so don’t discount the possibility she finishes out her term.

2. After a nerve-wracking uptick during July, Rhode Island’s key coronavirus metrics steadied this week. Eli Sherman’s WPRI.com tracking page shows the 7-day average for new cases fell to 82 as of Friday, down from a recent high of 107 on July 29. Likewise, the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in Rhode Island is down to 79, an improvement from the 96 patients in the hospital just five days before. That will only strengthen Governor Raimondo’s insistence that schools make every effort to resume in-person classes when their rescheduled first day arrives on Sept. 14. That was also why she booked Dr. Fauci for a virtual event on Thursday, where he reinforced the argument that schools can reopen safely. “You’ve got to be flexible,” he said, describing Rhode Island as a “green state” because its positivity rate is below 5%. Fauci also offered a hopeful message: “This will end. We’re going to be looking back a year from now celebrating how we got through this together.” Progress is also being made in nursing homes, where coronavirus infections have plummeted since the height of the crisis last spring.

3. Rhode Island’s state agencies are being told to find 15% budget cuts for next year.

4. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Steph Machado: “This week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Rhode Island mail ballots was a big win for elections officials and voting rights groups that sought to relax the witness rules this fall, making the voting process slightly easier for those choosing to cast a ballot from home during the pandemic. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea gave the order to mail out 16,000 ballots once the decision came down Thursday, and theoretically that should leave voters plenty of time to receive them and send them back in time for the Sept. 8 primary. (PSA: you still have three days left to request a primary ballot.) But Common Cause’s John Marion, whose group was one of the plaintiffs that sued to relax the witness rules, says he’s turning his attention to the ongoing issues reported within the U.S. Postal Service, especially considering Rhode Island’s new mail ballot printer — hired specifically to handle the increased load — will be sending the ballots to Rhode Island all the way from Washington state. Marion said he’s also closely watching how Rhode Island will collect mail ballots in person, which could be crucial if the post office doesn’t get the ballots to voters in time for them to be mailed back by Sept. 8. With newly ordered drop-boxes not expected to arrive until the November election, Marion said it’s not totally clear whether in September towns and cities will have places to drop a ballot that don’t require a voter to go inside, potentially defeating the purpose of avoiding the polls. The Postal Service said in a letter to Gorbea that the state’s three-week turnaround between the ballot application deadline and the election should be ‘sufficient,’ but added that voters should be dropping their ballots in the mail at least seven days before the election to be sure they’ll arrive in time to be counted.”

5. Rhode Island’s federal elections look pretty sleepy compared to the hot contests across the border in Massachusetts — neither Jack Reed nor David Cicilline drew Democratic primary challengers, and the state GOP has even distanced itself from Reed’s Republican opponent. Things are a bit more interesting, though, in the 2nd Congressional District. Jim Langevin, who’s held the seat for 20 years now, got an unexpected primary challenger from Dylan Conley, a lawyer who is also chair of the Providence Board of Licenses and the son of Senate Finance Chairman William Conley. The race has received minimal attention, partly because Langevin is viewed as a lock for re-election and partly because Conley entered the race so late. On Thursday night, though, Eat Drink RI’s Dave Dadekian gave the race some attention by bringing Langevin and Conley together for an hourlong town hall. A primary challenge can also mean new scrutiny for a comfortable incumbent: RIPR’s Ian Donnis took a closer look at Langevin’s penchant for stock picking after Conley criticized him for it.

6. With 17 days left to go before Massachusetts’ Sept. 1 primary, the eight Democrats vying to replace Joe Kennedy in the 4th Congressional District are still in a dogfight. Analysts increasingly put four candidates in the top tier — Jake Auchincloss, Becky Grossman, Jesse Mermell and Ihssane Leckey — but the other four insist they too have paths to victory. I spent Thursday on the campaign trail and talking with the candidates to put together this overview of the state of the race. One development since then: Auchincloss’s campaign confirmed Friday he is pouring at least $150,000 of his own money into his bid to help fund a final push, and is considering an additional $100,000 infusion. If you want to see the candidates for yourself, I’ll be moderating a virtual debate hosted by Stonehill College this Tuesday night at 7.

7. Aficionados of Massachusetts politics know the Kennedy clan has a nearly unbroken three-generation record of election wins in the state — John F. Kennedy and his brother Ted won every race, as did their nephew Joseph Kennedy II, and so far his son Joe Kennedy III has, too. The exception: Robert Kennedy, JKIII’s grandfather, who lost the 1968 Democratic presidential primary to Eugene McCarthy. Before that, the last time a member of the family was defeated at the polls was when Honey Fitz lost to Joe Casey in 1942 — and he was a Fitzgerald. While nobody I talked to this week in Massachusetts politics believes a new UMass poll showing Ed Markey up 15 points over Kennedy, it’s almost universally acknowledged that Markey has momentum, with some suggesting Kennedy has gone from favorite to underdog. Markey’s partnership with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal, his legions of social media fans and general resentment toward Kennedy family entitlement are proving to be powerful headwinds for the 39-year-old congressman as he seeks a promotion. Markey’s campaign is taking nothing for granted, and primaries are more volatile than general elections, so a late shift in voter sentiment is entirely possible. But Kennedy and his advisers have major work to do over the next two-and-a-half weeks in order to turn things around.

8. Just how high will turnout go in the Massachusetts primary? The year to beat is 1990, when over 1.5 million ballots were cast as voters in both parties revolted against the status quo. More recently, the last time primary turnout topped 1 million votes was 2006, the year Deval Patrick’s “Yes We Can” victory presaged the looming rise of Barack Obama.

9. The East Providence City Council has set an Aug. 26 hearing on the controversial rezoning proposal to redevelop the Metacomet Country Club.

10. Science Magazine has a pick for the worst year ever to be alive: 536 A.D.

11. Is Kamala Harris (b. 1964) a Baby Boomer or a Gen X’er?

12. Josh Barro on what COVID-19 means for the future of shopping malls.

13. Just what the doctor ordered to get through the pandemic: a new Diana Krall album.

14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – an encore of WPRI 12’s U.S. Senate Democratic primary debate between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both shows on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can catch them back-to-back Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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