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Nesi’s Notes: July 4

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. Happy Fourth of July! Pop quiz: who signed the Declaration of Independence for Rhode Island? And a bonus question — who signed for Massachusetts? Answers at the end of the column.

2. The Rhode Island and Massachusetts primaries are fast approaching, with the Bay State going first on Sept. 1 and the Ocean State following on Sept. 8. All candidates, whether they’re running for Congress or General Assembly, face a highly unusual electioneering landscape due to coronavirus. The biggest question surrounds how exactly people will vote — and, particularly, whether all voters will proactively be sent a mail ballot application as Rhode Island did for last month’s presidential primary. The surge in turnout for the primary suggests significantly more voters will cast a ballot in an election if they discover an application in their mailbox. Massachusetts looks poised to take that approach for its primary, but Rhode Island leaders have yet to decide whether to repeat the experiment for Sept. 8. If they do, our political analyst Joe Fleming says, “probably 80% of the people will be voting by mail, which means the candidates’ campaigning times are going to be shortened, because the mail ballots will probably arrive at people’s houses about two weeks before the primary.” That means candidates will need to start making their final pitches to voters in August, while also keeping enough powder dry for a final push on the actual in-person voting day. In Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate and 4th Congressional District races, it will change the calculus for when candidates want to have their ads up on TV, since a late blitz risks coming after many voters have already sent in their ballots. In Rhode Island, where most of the primary action is for General Assembly seats, Fleming thinks the situation could benefit better-funded candidates who have the resources to do more mailings, as well as those with strong organizations that can adapt to this year’s unusual dynamics.

3. The secretary of state’s office has compiled generational data on how Rhode Islanders cast their ballots in the 2020 and 2016 presidential primaries, and it offers clear evidence that the vote-by-mail option was especially popular with senior citizens. Nearly every Greatest Generation voter, most now in their 90s, cast a ballot by mail this year; in 2016, two-thirds of them had gone and cast a vote in person. Silent Generation voters, most in their 70s and 80s, went from only 6% voting by mail in 2016 to 94% in 2020. And Baby Boomers went from 3% mail ballots to 88%. There was somewhat more willingness to venture to a polling place last month among younger voters despite the pandemic, but mail ballots were still the majority choice: 78% of Generation X voters, 71% of Millennial voters and even 64% of Gen Z voters cast their ballots by mail.

4. The Democratic primary to replace Joe Kennedy in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District is going to be quite an expensive affair, with the nine candidates closing in on $7 million in campaign cash and multiple well-funded hopefuls. Newton’s Jake Auchincloss has a significant financial edge over the rest of the field, with Brookline’s Alan Khazei in second place but well behind. But all the campaigns are having to scramble their calculations after progressive Ihssane Leckey said she took in over $700,000 during the second quarter, vaulting her into the top tier. Her campaign has not confirmed how much of that is self-funding, but if Leckey is actually willing to spend the money, she will be more formidable than expected. (As a reminder, the 4th District includes the Fall River, Attleboro and Taunton regions, stretching north to the Boston border.)

5. A lot of the analysis of the U.S. Senate race between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy has been premised on the idea Kennedy would maintain a financial advantage through the Sept. 1 primary. But that may need to be reassessed after this week’s news that Markey kept pace with Kennedy on fundraising during the second quarter — both took in roughly $1.9 million — and that Markey enters the final eight weeks of the race with slightly more cash on hand than his challenger.

6. Our WPRI.com tracking page has all the latest COVID-19 data for Rhode Island, suggesting the situation remains under control locally. “We have another six months with this,” former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said Thursday on CNBC. “We’ll have two months of relative quiescence here in the Northeast — July and August should be OK. I think things will heat back up in September. And this will be over by January one way or the other — either we’ll get to a vaccine, or it will just have spread enough that it’s going to stop spreading efficiently.”

7. Long before he was president of Bryant University, Ron Machtley was a Republican congressman from Rhode Island. During an exit interview with my colleague Kait Walsh airing on this weekend’s Newsmakers, Machtley marveled at how much the environment has changed since his days on Capitol Hill, recalling how he would play basketball with Chuck Schumer or get a drink in Tip O’Neill’s office. “There was not all this friction and personal animosity that we see today,” Machtley said. “And no one would ever think of saying something publicly which was just mean and mean-spirited or derogatory about somebody that they just had a personal philosophical difference with. In fact, one of my fondest memories of Washington and Congress was I would see people in the well arguing passionately for their position on various bills, and then they would walk out arm in arm and have lunch together. It was not personal. It was what they were trying to do for the betterment of the country. And I hope it will get back to that.”

8. Also sitting for an exit interview on this weekend’s Newsmakers is outgoing Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley. In conversation with my colleague Mike Montecalvo, Shanley reflected on PC in light of the George Floyd protests. “It’s kind of sad that we had to get to this point to wake people up to the reality of racism in our country,” Shanley said. “And we’ve had our struggles on campus. We’ve become a more diverse campus in terms of our student body and also in terms of our faculty. But inclusion is different from diversity. You can have numbers, which is what diversity measures, but it doesn’t measure a sense of belonging and feeling like a full member of the community.” Discussing his decision to hire a chief diversity officer, he said, “I wanted the campus to look more like the world. We were too white and too middle class and what I was hearing from alumni is that the experience they had when they were undergrads didn’t really prepare them for the world that they were going into.” Shanley also said PC has focused on recruiting freshmen from Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and East Providence, noting that first-generation students often don’t want to go to school too far from home. “I think the main thing you have to do is say, don’t be scared by the sticker price,” he said. “We have a lot of scholarship money, and if we can get them here and they can see the campus and we can assure them that we can do what we need to do financially then we can recruit and attract those students.”

9. Dan McGowan breaks down an important high court decision on pensions in Providence.

10. Cranston’s two Republican mayoral hopefuls, Mike Farina and Ken Hopkins, are waging an intense battle-by-press-release in reporters’ inboxes as they compete to succeed term-limited GOP incumbent Allan Fung (who supports Hopkins). This week’s skirmish was triggered by a photo showing that Speaker Mattiello and one of his top advisers, JCLS chief Frank Montanaro Jr., had both signed Farina’s nomination papers — which Hopkins cast as further evidence that Farina is controlled by Mattiello, and Farina cast as a sign he’ll have strong relationships at the State House. So how does Mattiello — who is after all de facto head of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, which has its own mayoral candidates in Steve Stycos and Maria Bucci — explain helping a leading Republican get on the ballot? “Speaker Mattiello was in City Hall to pick up his nomination papers and ran into Mike Farina, who offered to sign his papers, so he reciprocated,” says Mattiello spokesperson Patti Doyle. “Speaker Mattiello has also signed the papers for Steve Stycos and has reached out to Maria Bucci to sign hers as well. Politics aside, the speaker is a friend of Mike Farina’s.”

11. Eye on Congress … Jack Reed will be on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend … Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse joined a bipartisan majority that voted to block debate on Rand Paul’s amendment to withdraw troops from Afghanistan … the Wall Street Journal editorial page escalated its attacks on Whitehouse … Whitehouse published a new critique of GOP judges in the Harvard Journal on LegislationDavid Cicilline was interviewed by one of the nation’s most influential technology journalists, Kara Swisher, for a New York Times column on top CEOs testifying later this month as part of his antitrust investigation.

12. Fred Zilian reveals how Rhode Island came to dominate the slave trade in the 1700s.

13. Peter Tonguette argues Life magazine would have fit this moment perfectly.

14. Happy 90th birthday to the car radio.

15. Quiz answer: Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery signed the Declaration of Independence on behalf of Rhode Island. Hopkins (1707-1785) was a long-serving Rhode Island governor and pro-independence merchant with ties to the Brown family who hosted George Washington when he stayed in Providence; he was also a slaveholder. Ellery (1727-1820) was a prominent lawyer and politician who spent 30 years as Newport’s customs collector; he became an ardent abolitionist. Here’s how the National Park Service compares the pair: “One of a small group of lesser known signers whose achievements were comparatively modest, William Ellery gained little fame beyond his hometown — in sharp contrast to fellow Rhode Island signer Stephen Hopkins.” Massachusetts had five signers: John Hancock, Sam Adams, John Adams, Robert Paine and Elbridge Gerry (who gave “gerrymandering” its name).

16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Bryant University President Ron Machtley; Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, you can subscribe to both our weekend 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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