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 me on Twitter and on Facebook.

1. Elections can be hard to handicap when there are just a few candidates, but the challenge grows significantly when the field gets as large as it now has in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District. So far 11 candidates have launched campaigns or at least filed the paperwork to run for Jim Langevin’s seat — eight of them Democrats. This week saw back-to-back announcements by two candidates whose names were on few if any short lists a month ago: former state Rep. David Segal and former U.S. Commerce Department official Sarah Morgenthau. They join a Democratic field that also includes Omar Bah, Joy Fox, Seth Magaziner, Cameron Moquin, Michael Neary and Ed Pacheco. Segal knows what it takes to mount a campaign for Congress, having run unsuccessfully for the state’s other congressional seat back in 2010, a contest won by David Ciclline. (He’s since moved from the 1st District to the 2nd.) Though Segal has been out of elected office for over a decade, he hopes that he could emerge as the standard-bearer for more left-leaning voters, and his profile among national progressive activists could also help him with fundraising. Morgenthau’s emergence has been even more of a surprise than Segal’s; while she told me Rhode Island has been a “constant” in her life thanks to her family’s Saunderstown summer home, she only registered to vote in Rhode Island this month. However, Morgenthau has a lengthy résumé in national Democratic politics, including as a fundraiser, and other candidates are watching closely to see whether she’ll have the money to establish herself as a contender in the race.

2. As Tim White noted on this week’s Newsmakers, there are now so many Democrats in the 2nd District primary that it’s conceivable one of them could win the seat with as little as 20% of the vote. It won’t necessarily turn out that way — some candidates could drop out, or at least pull so few votes they barely register in the final tally. But it’s hardly inconceivable that the Democratic nominee could win without the support of the vast majority of primary voters. Just look at Massachusetts. The Bay State has had two open races for Congress in recent years, one in the 3rd District (won by Lori Trahan) and one in the 4th (Jake Auchincloss). Those primaries saw 10 Democrats and nine Democrats make the ballot, respectively, and Trahan and Auchincloss both won with just 22% of the vote. 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming estimates roughly 50,000 to 60,000 votes will be cast in the 2nd District primary this September, and “with the large field, you’re going to need fewer voters to win, obviously,” he said. The crowded field can also make it harder for individual candidates to grab voters’ attention, particularly if most of the people running are aligned on the big issues. That dynamic will help the candidates who have an existing base of support and who are able to raise enough money to reach a large number of voters, as well as anyone who can come up with a pitch that stands out. “September seems far away, but it’s really not that far,” Fleming said.

3. Just how unusual is the crowded field in the 2nd District? Local historian Steve Frias went back through the record books and found it’s now tied for the most candidates Rhode Island has ever had in a party primary for federal or state office. According to Frias, the last time things got this crowded was 1976, when eight Democrats ran in the primary for U.S. Senate — no other race had more than five. Frias, who is also the state’s GOP national committeeman, adds: “Oh, and do you know what happened in ’76? A Republican ended up winning the seat.” That Republican was John Chafee, who defeated Democrat Richard Lorber in 1976 and went on to hold the Senate seat for more than two decades. Rhode Island Republicans wouldn’t mind if history repeats itself this year.

4. Former state Rep. Ed Pacheco was one of the first Democrats to jump into the 2nd District primary as soon as Jim Langevin announced his retirement, and he’s one of only three candidates who’ve won elected office before. “I’m running for the United States Congress because I want to make a difference,” Pacheco said on this week’s Newsmakers. “It’s not a cliché for me. We need a fighter in Washington right now who’s going to be willing to roll up their sleeves on day one to fight on behalf of working families.” A former Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman, Pacheco knows politics and is comfortable on the campaign trail, emphasizing his biography as a Burillville native, a dad, and the son of a single mother. But he’s also likely to be heavily outspent — Seth Magaziner’s campaign said Friday he has raised roughly $750,000 in contributions since entering the congressional race. Pacheco declined to provide a specific number for his own fundraising, but said he has secured donations plus pledges for future donations that combine to a six-figure sum. “I never expected to be the most well-financed candidate,” he said, adding, “Voters are not looking for someone who can raise the most amount of money. They’re not looking for someone that’s independently wealthy. They’re looking for someone who they can identify with and understands the struggles and challenges that they face each and every day.”

5. Governor McKee kicked off his campaign for a full term at an East Providence plastics manufacturer on Tuesday, making his case to voters to give him a full term. Deploying a nautical metaphor, McKee argued that his initial task when he took over from Gina Raimondo was “right-sizing a listing ship,” telling reporters, “The state was taking on water.” To make the case, McKee and his introductory speaker — East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva — pointed in part to the state’s lagging vaccination rate at the time of the transition (including the infamous “F” from Harvard). DaSilva was one of seven municipal leaders who stood beside McKee as he made his speech, a visual reminder of the deep relationships the former Cumberland mayor has with city and town officials. (Indeed, one of the mayors who attended — Cranston’s Ken Hopkins — is not only a Republican but has toyed with a run for governor himself.) As Dan McGowan noted in The Globe, there are a lot of votes in the communities those mayors represent, and that could give the governor a boost in the primary if they put their political machines to work on his behalf. Meanwhile, the other four Democratic gubernatorial candidates — Matt Brown, Helena Foulkes, Nellie Gorbea and Luis Daniel Muñoz — are scheduled to take part in their first joint forum on Sunday evening, hosted by the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus. Asked why McKee wasn’t joining them, campaign manager Brexton Isaacs said, “As the governor has said, he looks forward to sharing his vision and participating in candidate forums as part of the campaign process. Unfortunately, he has a scheduling conflict and isn’t able to attend this forum.” (McKee is in Florida this weekend for a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association.)

6. Just as the Democratic gubernatorial field solidified, the potential Republican field got smaller. David Darlington, the former R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority chairman, said in a statement he is no longer considering seeking the GOP nomination for governor this year. “Although excited and motivated by the early response to my candidacy, my family and my business kept pulling me back, and, at least for now, they must take priority over my plan to re-enter public service,” he said. Still considering a run is businesswoman Ashley Kalus, a newcomer to Rhode Island who filed paperwork with the Board of Elections on Feb. 8 but hasn’t discussed her potential candidacy publicly so far.

7. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos was on hand for Governor McKee’s kickoff on Tuesday, but the pair aren’t planning to run a joint campaign the way rivals Matt Brown and Cynthia Mendes are. Matos told my colleague Steph Machado that they didn’t want to take that step without a clear procedure spelled out in the state constitution and state law. “I would like for the state of Rhode Island to change the constitution and have the governor and and I run together — that’s now how it works,” she said. (Brown and Mendes say they’re making it work by splitting expenses 50/50 and reporting the reimbursements on their filings, though their names will appear on different ballot lines.) Matos — who was appointed by McKee to his old job last year — expects to kick off her campaign for a full term around mid-March. “I’m going to be supporting him and he’s going to be supporting me,” she said. So far Mendes is the only announced Democratic challenger to Matos for the lieutenant governorship, but with the filing deadline not until late June, it’s possible other candidates could step forward. A Republican candidate, Jeann Lugo, has also filed to run for LG.

8. Here’s a dispatch from Target 12’s reporter at Providence City Hall, Steph Machado: “Providence’s redistricting process is set to kick into high gear next week, as the first draft map of the 15 redrawn wards is expected to come out as soon as Monday. The maps are redrawn once a decade and will be in effect for this fall’s City Council election. We already know that Ward 12 (Smith Hill and parts of Elmhurst, downtown and College Hill) and Ward 15 (Olneyville, Valley, Silver Lake) gained the most population between the 2010 and 2020 census, so those borders will need to shrink as the mapmakers seek to have roughly the same number of people in each ward. On the other end, Ward 3 on the East Side saw the least amount of growth, increasing by just 199 people in the past decade. None of the wards saw their populations decline. Monday at 6 p.m. is the second-to-last public hearing of the Ward Boundaries Committee and will be held at the DaVinci Center, with the final hearing being virtual-only on Wednesday. The public will still get another chance to weigh in on the map after the committee forwards its recommendation to the full City Council, which can amend the map again before final passage, likely in April.”

9. What are the stakes for the U.S. in the Russia-Ukraine crisis? Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating put it this way: “This isn’t about Ukraine and Russia alone. People have to realize the magnitude of this. … This is an historic battle that’s now upon us at this moment, not between just these two countries but between democracy and authoritarianism.”

10. There’s always a Rhode Island connection: President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, clerked for Rhode Islander U.S. Circuit Judge Bruce Selya in the 1990s. In an interview Friday with Kim Kalunian, Selya said Jackson reminds him of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was his Harvard classmate. “I think that just as Ruth Ginsberg became a larger-than-life figure — not only was a wonderful justice of the Supreme Court but became a national icon, and deservedly — I think that Ketanji has that potential,” Selya said.

11. Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe has announced he is stepping down part way through his current six-year term. That will have an effect on Jack Reed, since he works closely with Inhofe as their party’s top members on the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker is next in line for the GOP.) Inhofe has also tangled with Sheldon Whitehouse over climate change, including a famous 2015 incident when the Oklahoman brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to argue against the planet’s warming trend. “In the strange ways of the Senate, Jim Inhofe was perhaps my worst foe on climate change issues, yet a key ally on my oceans and infrastructure measures,” Whitehouse said Friday. “When he’s decided to push for something, he’s had an astounding ability to get it done.”

12. A behind-the-scenes congressional anecdote from from The Washington Post’s Paul Kane: “Last month, Rep. David N. Cicilline sent eight colleagues a gift to mark the bonds they forged in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. ‘Chance made us coworkers,’ read the message on a candle from Cicilline, noting that ‘crazy psycho’ events made ‘us friends.'” California Congressman Ted Lieu — who was in lockdown with Cicilline on Jan. 6 — tweeted a photo of the candle after he received it.

13. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “The Benjamin Franklin quote about nothing being certain ‘except death and taxes’ could be updated in Rhode Island to include ‘bills from National Grid.’ Yet those monthly gas and electric bills could soon be coming from a different company, PPL Corp., as state regulators last week approved a $3.8 billion deal that would result in the Pennsylvania-based energy company taking over local operations and gaining 780,000 new customers as a result. State Hearing Officer John Spirito said a thorough regulatory review showed the deal wouldn’t result in diminished services, and it was ‘consistent with the public interest.’ National Grid and PPL are hoping to complete the transaction next month. But Attorney General Peter Neronha isn’t sold, saying the companies failed to provide enough evidence to prove the deal wouldn’t result in increased costs to ratepayers. Neronha has appealed the decision to Superior Court, calling on a judge to deny the approval and ‘remand the matter for further proceedings.’”

14. Will RIDE take action against North Kingstown over the naked “fat test” scandal?

15. Lifespan and Care New England officially called the whole thing off on Wednesday, withdrawing their merger application and terminating their exclusivity agreement, leaving both hospital groups free to talk with other potential merger partners. As expected, Care New England quickly had a suitor: StoneBridge Healthcare, the Pennsylvania company that previously made an unsolicited offer for CNE back in 2020. CNE executives said they were spending this week discussing the fallout from the failed merger internally with employees, but plan to say more publicly about what happens next before long.

16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — congressional candidate Ed Pacheco; plus, Senator Whitehouse on the Ukraine crisis. Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 or 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes. See you back here next Saturday.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.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