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Nesi’s Notes: March 7

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. Gina Raimondo may have been entirely sincere in her belief that Mike Bloomberg would make the most effective president if given the job. But to get there he first needed to win the Democratic nomination — and on that score her political instincts failed rather spectacularly. Granted, Joe Biden was on life support during the brief window between Iowa and New Hampshire when the governor made her endorsement. And the billionaire’s unprecedented spending probably looked shrewd to a politician whose own campaigns have always relied on overwhelming financial firepower. But she failed to see how Bloomberg the human — as opposed to Bloomberg the TV-ad product — would fare once he stepped into the spotlight on his own. (Notable examples: his out-of-tune comments to other Democratic governors at a private meeting she brokered, and his evisceration at the hands of Elizabeth Warren in the Nevada debate.) A number of Raimondo advisers and allies were highly skeptical of her move, fearing it would destroy years of work to shift her image from a pension-cutting Wall Streeter to a mainstream centrist Democrat. Thus Bloomberg’s collapse on Super Tuesday was the best possible outcome for Raimondo — he tanked so hard that he didn’t even play the spoiler role Biden’s team had feared. And his quick exit let Raimondo make a fast pivot. “I am thrilled, actually, that the vice president had such a great day yesterday, and now as far as I’m concerned we have to get behind Joe Biden and make sure he’s the next president,” she told reporters. While spurning Biden in his hour of need probably lowered Raimondo’s chances of landing a Cabinet position, memories could be short if she goes all-out to help him in the coming months. And it’s safe to say that whatever Raimondo decides to do once she leaves office in 2022, Mike Bloomberg will be happy to take her calls.

2. One person who’s probably feeling good right now: Lt. Gov. Dan McKee. He was the highest-profile Joe Biden backer in Rhode Island (once the campaign distanced itself from Speaker Mattiello), and he himself had showed in his 2018 primary win against Aaron Regunberg that there were still enough moderate and centrist voters in the Democratic Party to defeat a Sanders-esque progressive opponent.

3. In a week full of political surprises, the biggest one may have been Joe Biden winning Massachusetts, a state where polls had shown him as low as fifth place just days earlier. Without campaigning or airing TV ads, the former VP snatched a state Bernie Sanders badly wanted to win while also helping push Elizabeth Warren out of the race. Something that should give pause to Sanders supporters as they prepare for the Rhode Island primary April 28: the Vermont senator received roughly 200,000 fewer votes in Massachusetts than he did against Hillary Clinton even though turnout was up compared with 2016. Thus it’s no guarantee Sanders will be able to win the Ocean State again, or at least not as easily as he did four years ago. Another sign of that: Biden and Mike Bloomberg combined for 50% of the vote in Bristol County, the part of Massachusetts nearest and most similar to Rhode Island. There was a silver lining for Sanders fans, though — he eked out a win in the region’s second-largest city, New Bedford, the only mainland municipality he won in the entire southeast. (He did win Chilmark and Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, too.) And his supporters are taking nothing for granted, kicking off their first Rhode Island canvas this weekend.

4. Good read from David Bernstein: the five decisions that doomed Elizabeth Warren.

5. U.S. Senate rivals Joe Kennedy and Ed Markey were both early and avid Elizabeth Warren supporters, so they now face the hot potato of choosing between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. So far, neither one is interested in making a new endorsement (even though Markey is courting the Sanders/AOC wing of the party as he seeks to fend off Kennedy). All this as a new WBZ/Globe/Suffolk poll shows Kennedy with a small lead over Markey, little changed from before, and Markey continues to edge him in the party caucuses. The campaign will arrive in New Bedford on Sunday afternoon when Whaling City Democrats hold their caucus — Kennedy is planning to attend in person.

6. The latest round of grand jury subpoenas in the Speaker Mattiello/Convention Center probe confirms the investigation remains active. All indications suggest the grand jury remains focused on whether the speaker and his aides inappropriately tried to interfere in a Convention Center personnel investigation involving Mattiello’s friend James Demers. More evidence of that: my colleague Eli Sherman checked and confirmed the Convention Center Authority has received no request from prosecutors for financial documents or other records, which is what you’d expect them to do if their focus was on the authority rather than the State House. The speaker’s office also confirmed Mattiello himself has not received a subpoena, unlike Convention Center leaders and his own aides Leo Skenyon and Frank Montanaro Jr. (Meanwhile, the speaker’s office is fighting our Access to Public Records Act request for a copy of the document he says he was given by Demers flagging problems at the Convention Center.)

7. Rhode Island now has its third case of coronavirus, and its first that’s not tied to St. Ray’s. One of the chief concerns nationally is whether enough testing is being done to flag cases and prevent the disease from spreading, as The Atlantic detailed on Friday. The R.I. Department of Health has been transparent about testing locally — department officials disclosed Friday evening the state has tested 33 people for coronavirus so far, with three testing positive, 17 testing negative, and 13 still waiting for results.

8. An upcoming Tim White investigation has already caused Fall River’s police chief to step down.

9. Steph Machado breaks down the final regulations for the new medical marijuana dispensaries.

10. Freshmen Democrats Sen. Bridget Valverde and Rep. Liana Cassar held a news conference with Planned Parenthood this week drawing attention to their bill that would allow state employees and Medicaid enrollees to use their health insurance to pay for an abortion. The measure offers an interesting ideological X-ray of the two heavily Democratic chambers. In the Senate, the legislation is sponsored by 19 senators — a majority of members. In the House, though, it’s only sponsored by 26 reps — barely one in three.

11. I don’t have much to add about the patently unconstitutional bill targeting news outlets that four Democratic state senators briefly put forward this week. But it did bring to mind a comment CBS News legend Harry Reasoner made back in 1974: “The only thing worse than a free commercial press is its absence.”

12. Lots of Friday afternoon staff changes. First off, longtime R.I. Lottery Director Gerry Aubin is stepping down after 24 years. And in the governor’s office, Senior Deputy Chief of Staff Lisa Vura-Weis is departing for the private sector, to be replaced by Assistant Secretary for Human Services Dacia Reed; R.I. Department of Administration spokesperson Brenna McCabe is becoming a senior adviser to the governor; and outreach manager Joe Sacks has been promoted to director of public engagement.

13. Famed Fall River Democrat Joan Menard is backing Becky Grossman for the 4th District.

14. Nearly 100 million eligible Americans didn’t cast a ballot in 2016 — roughly 43% of everybody who had the right to vote. Why? The Knight Foundation convened a group of experts plus an advisory committee that included Secretary Gorbea to look at that question — here’s their report. Three big takeaways about non-voters: many distrust the election system and their ability to affect it; many don’t consume much news; and their political views vary widely. Then there’s this alarming finding: “Young eligible citizens (18 to 24 years old) are even less likely than non-voters to report following political news, and feel less informed than non-voters come election time. Fewer are interested in voting in 2020 than non-voters, principally because they don’t care about politics. They also struggle the most with the voting process.”

15. My colleague Caroline Goggin went to Washington to catch up with FEMA chief and Rhody native Pete Gaynor.

16. The Atlantic examines why corporate buzzwords are so annoying. (I plead guilty on “circle back.”)

17. The trailer for the new Ella Fitzgerald documentary looks good — watch here.

18. Don’t forget to “spring forward” tonight!

19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a political roundtable tackles Super Tuesday and the Convention Center controversy. 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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