1. While Dan McKee had a comfortable lead over Ashley Kalus in early October polling, a lot has happened since then, including TV debates and bad news cycles for both candidates. The two campaigns surely have their own internal polling — and their moves suggest a competitive contest as we enter the final weekend. Kalus poured another $1 million into her campaign during October, indicating she still sees a path to victory and bringing her personal investment in the race to an astonishing $4.7 million. And McKee’s team has stayed aggressive, even calling a news conference with less than two hours’ notice Tuesday so his allies could attack Kalus. Also telling: the Democratic Governors Association just pumped $260,000 into Rhode Island to go back on TV attacking Kalus. It’s doubtful the DGA would have done so without some concern about a late surge for Kalus, considering Democrats are triaging races all over the country. As for earned media, both candidates took a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook this week. After our scoop last Friday about a 2019 Chicago police report containing allegations against Kalus, The Globe’s Brian Amaral followed up with news of vulgar and off-color texts she sent to a contractor. Kalus took the Trumpian approach, expressing no regret and instead touting the texts as evidence she really is the fighter she claims to be. Then on Thursday it was McKee’s turn to emulate the former president, airing his many grievances about his press coverage in a combative podcast interview with The Globe’s Ed Fitzpatrick. “I just asked a question,” Fitzpatrick told McKee at one point. “You can control the answers – you can’t control the questions.” It all led up to a feisty final TV debate Thursday night.
2. Something to keep in mind for Tuesday night: Dan McKee doesn’t need a majority of voters to support him in order to win, since there are five gubernatorial candidates on the ballot. McKee would surely like to top Gina Raimondo’s 53% victory in 2018, which was the best performance by a governor in 16 years (and the best by a Democrat since 1992). But realistically, he could probably secure a victory with roughly 48% depending on how much the three independent candidates get. The risk for McKee is that Democrats’ struggles nationwide drag him down the way they did New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who was supposed to coast to re-election last November only to win by just a few points.
3. The moment of truth has arrived in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District. Will voters on the western side of Rhode Island send a Republican to the U.S. House for the first time since 1988, or will the state’s longstanding Democratic lean reassert itself in the final hour? There’s a reason national forecasters like the Cook Political Report label the race a “toss-up” — political pros on both sides could see it going either way. The race has been extraordinarily expensive: the two campaigns and their allies have spent over $10 million on TV and radio advertising, saturating the airwaves. (Rhode Islanders now know what it feels like to live in a swing state.) Democrats’ confidence hit a low ebb in early October, when two public polls showed Allan Fung maintaining a healthy lead over Seth Magaziner; their hopes have rebounded somewhat as Magaziner shifted to a more traditional Democratic message and executed effective debate performances. Yet Fung’s team has shown almost no sign of concern, rarely varying from the inflation-and-moderation message he has hewed to since his kickoff. (One small exception: Fung finally used his own campaign money for a TV attack this week, something he had previously left to Republican outside groups.) If Magaziner manages to hold the seat, he will have achieved an impressive feat against a top-tier opponent. But if Fung secures a victory, it will be national news — a sign of just how dire things are for Democrats heading into 2024, and how the GOP is still viable in New England with the right candidates.
4. Our longtime political analyst Joe Fleming says he thinks voter turnout in Rhode Island could be anywhere from 340,000 to 400,000 on Tuesday. Part of the reason for such a big range, he said, is because this is the first post-pandemic election with new voting options available. “We don’t know how much impact the early voting and mail ballots are going to have,” he said. Are the changes going to lead more Rhode Islanders to vote, or just shift when people vote without adding to the overall pool of voters? Fleming will be keeping a close eye on the results in Providence on Tuesday night, since Dan McKee will want a strong margin there. He’ll also be watching Warwick. “Warwick is a big bellwether in the state of Rhode Island,” Fleming said. “I want to see how Dan McKee is doing in Warwick — is he breaking even, winning, or losing? That’s going to tell us a lot.” As for the congressional race, “if Allan Fung is winning Warwick, it’s going to be a real tough night for Seth Magaziner to come back. I think Seth Magaziner has to at least win Warwick or break even there, and he has to try and hold his own in Cranston.” While it’s not a worry for Magaziner, other Democrats are keeping a nervous eye on the early turnout in the 1st Congressional District, where there are few compelling races for offices like mayor. Providence was third in early turnout as of Friday evening, trailing the smaller cities of Warwick and Cranston. And Central Falls was dead last — even New Shoreham had seen more ballots cast.
5. It’s been nearly three decades since the GOP won any of Rhode Island’s four non-gubernatorial general offices; the last Republicans to do so were Attorney General Jeff Pine and General Treasurer Nancy Mayer in 1994. Could this be the year that changes? The GOP has particularly high hopes in two races. One is the contest for lieutenant governor, where Republican Aaron Guckian has been outspending Democratic incumbent Sabina Matos (though she already got her name recognition up for the primary, unlike Guckian). The other is the race for general treasurer, where Republican James Lathrop is challenging Democrat James Diossa. The pair debated Friday in our WPRI 12 studios for this week’s edition of Newsmakers, and demonstrated sharp differences over the future of state pension policy. They also tangled over their respective records in municipal office — Diossa insisted he never intended to mislead voters about his taxpayer-funded travel as Central Falls mayor, while Lathrop did his best to explain a conflict over health insurance which led New Shoreham to sue him. Voters also have Republican options in the races for attorney general, where Chas Calenda is challenging Peter Neronha, and secretary of state, where Pat Cortellessa faces Gregg Amore.
6. When you sit down to watch the election results on Tuesday night, you’ll want to keep your TV tuned to 12 News. Yours truly and our entire team will be on the air, bringing you live race calls and reactions from the candidates at their headquarters. WPRI 12 will have local cut-ins as part of CBS News coverage during the 8 p.m. hour, and then our 12 News Election Night Special kicks off at 9 p.m. Stay with us for continuing coverage at 10 and 11 o’clock — and of course, all night long on WPRI.com and social media. You can also stream all our newscasts live online.
7. Rhode Island’s congressional delegation has a lot on the line Tuesday even aside from the 2nd District race. With Democrats expected to lose the House, David Cicilline will also lose his gavel as a subcommittee chairmanship, and will be plunged into an internal caucus fight over who should lead his party in the House going forward. The same is true in the Senate, where Democrats have higher hopes of holding the majority but are at clear risk of losing the chamber. That would deprive Jack Reed of his prized Armed Services Committee gavel after just two years, and leave Sheldon Whitehouse fighting uphill battles on his issues. Minority status can also make long-tenured lawmakers decide it’s time to retire, which would eventually boost the seniority of all three — unless one of them makes the same decision. (Whitehouse and Reed have both indicated they plan to seek re-election in 2024 and 2026, respectively.)
8. Something to watch once the results are in for General Assembly races on Tuesday night: who will Dominick Ruggerio pick to succeed Mike McCaffrey as Senate majority leader, and what domino effects will that have on committee chairmanships? Make no mistake, Ruggerio’s leadership team expects to feel the loss of McCaffrey acutely; he’s been a point person on many issues, particularly those involving the Judiciary Committee, as well as a lead negotiator with the House. Four senators have publicly expressed interest in the job — Ryan Pearson, Dawn Euer, Frank Ciccone and Josh Miller — but Pearson is now seen as the frontrunner. One reason he could get the nod: the Cumberland Democrat has experience negotiating with the House after wrangling over the budget as chairman of Senate Finance. Pearson’s appointment would free up the gavel on Finance, giving Ruggerio another plum post to hand out in addition to the already-open position of Judiciary chair. Expect the dominoes to fall quickly after the election.
9. After weeks of campaign controversy, the R.I. Department of Education unexpectedly released the RICAS test scores on Friday, showing an uptick in math but a dip in English language arts; proficiency is down in both subjects versus pre-pandemic. Steph Machado, Eli Sherman and Kim Kalunian have a full breakdown of the scores and what changed with the timing of their release, as well as a database you can search by school.
10. More from Steph Machado: her latest Pulse of Providence gets Providence City Council President-to-be Rachel Miller on the record about the city’s biggest issues, and she also has what you need to know about Tuesday’s cannabis referendums.
11. Massachusetts is wrapping up its sleepiest election cycle in quite some time, with Democrat Maura Healey on a glide path to the governor’s office as Republican Geoff Diehl runs a head-scratcher of a campaign. But there are still a few races worth watching. Some Republicans hope that their nominee for the low-profile auditor’s office, Anthony Amore, could score an upset over Democrat Diana DiZoglio. That’s partly because Amore is the only GOP nominee endorsed by outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker, who has spurned the rest of his party’s ticket. (Fun fact: Amore is a Rhode Island native who graduated from Classical High School.) Locally, of course, there is also the hard-fought race for Bristol County sheriff. Democrat Paul Heroux, the mayor of Attleboro, is battling to dislodge 25-year GOP incumbent Tom Hodgson. Heroux has been endorsed by The Boston Globe and The Sun Chronicle, and Hodgson spent some of the campaign’s final days disputing charges of antisemitism. But the veteran sheriff has sharp political instincts, deep roots in the county, and support from Baker — he will be hard to beat.
12. With no opponents back home in Massachusetts’ 4th District, Congressman Jake Auchincloss will be spending his weekend stumping in Maine for fellow House Democrat Jared Golden, who’s in a tough race. Auchincloss and Golden, both Millennials and U.S. Marine Corps veterans, are roommates in Washington.
13. If you feel like the interest rate on your savings account isn’t exactly keeping up with the Fed, you’re not alone. Jack Reed, who serves on the Senate Banking Committee, sent a pointed letter to the CEOs of the country’s top seven banks this week asking them to explain why they’re taking advantage of the central bank’s rate hikes when they charge interest but not when they pay it. Reed has requested answers by Nov. 23.
14. Sheldon Whitehouse is racking up some Frequent Flyer miles this month. He left Wednesday for Europe as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that is visiting London and The Hague to confer with heads of state about Ukraine, European security, and U.S. relations. Then Whitehouse is planning to head to Egypt as part of the Senate delegation to COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which starts Nov. 10.
15. Speaking of Senator Whitehouse, he’s also making some changes on his press team after the recent departure of comms chief Rich Davidson for the Atlantic Council. Rhode Island native Meaghan McCabe, Whitehouse’s skillful senior communications adviser, has been promoted to communications director. Joining her on Whitehouse’s team is Angelika Pellegrino, a Gina Raimondo staffer at both the State House and the U.S. Commerce Department, who is taking over as the senator’s deputy communications director. Also getting a new title is Stephen DeLeo, who’s been promoted from communications assistant to deputy press secretary. All this comes as Team Whitehouse is getting ready to pilot his bid for a fourth six-year term in 2024.
16. All roads lead back to Southern New England: with Rhode Islander Gina Raimondo increasingly seen as the most likely pick to succeed Janet Yellen at Treasury, she faces organized opposition out of Massachusetts via Elizabeth Warren and her allies.
17. Ever since Cranston canvassing chief Nick Lima posted a photo of 101-year-old World War II vet Don Mellor casting his ballot for this year’s election, I wanted to see an interview with him. Mike Montecalvo and Johnny Villella come through in this week’s Street Stories, which is sure to leave a tear in your eye.
18. Two of The Providence Journal’s most familiar bylines will no longer be appearing on the front page. Linda Borg and G. Wayne Miller announced Friday they are retiring after a combined 79 years at Rhode Island’s paper of record. They are true stalwarts of local journalism, and the state has been lucky to have them.
19. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a debate between the two candidates for Rhode Island general treasurer, James Diossa and James Lathrop. Watch 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 (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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