Nesi’s Notes: Oct. 13

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. There have now been three polls of Rhode Island voters since last month’s primary, two of them live phone surveys (WPRI/RWU and Projo/89.3/WLNE) and one done online (GoLocal). What do they tell us? With polls, it can help to look past the exact numbers in each one (though those are important!) and examine the overall story they tell. And in the main matchup, the story is clear: Gina Raimondo has a real lead over Allan Fung, but her advantage is not insurmountable. The surveys average to Raimondo 44%, Fung 35%. So what happens now? Considering the favorable political climate for Democrats, the governor’s team will be looking to double down on their strategy so far and avoid major missteps. For the Fung team, the goal is to find ways to change the dynamic in the race and prioritize messages that could push him past the mid-30s level of support he’s had since the last election. The story is less clear when it comes to independent Joe Trillo: he got about 6% in the two phone surveys, but 17% in the online poll. As you’d expect, Trillo argues the online finding is on target, though the Raimondo and Fung campaigns are skeptical. (One thing to keep in mind: you’d expect there to be more room for movement in Trillo’s numbers, since he started out much lesser-known than his rivals.) Fung and Trillo have a little over three weeks left to change the race’s momentum and overtake the governor, and they’ll get their next chance in the second debate Monday night at URI.

2. What to make of Joe Trillo’s 1975 altercation with a 12-year-old Nick Mattiello? The police report unearthed Friday by the Cranston Police Department simultaneously hurt and helped Trillo’s case, providing no corroboration for his story of a young girl in distress but revealing a detective felt Trillo had been provoked by the future House speaker (memorably described as “an ill-mannered, undisciplined little brat”). Trillo blamed Allan Fung for disclosure of the “one-sided” report, and tried to turn the tables by questioning why Fung won’t release records from his deadly 1989 car crash. The Rhode Island Democratic Party made no effort to hide its glee, mocking the contretemps as “the Fung-Trillo Three Ring Circus,” while Gina Raimondo tried her best to stay above the fray. As time goes on and Election Day draws closer, it’s starting to appear that Trillo’s effect on the race could be less about the amount of votes he wins and more about the amount of attention he gets.

3. Notes from the campaign trail. … Gina Raimondo remains the financial leader in the governor’s race, though matching funds have brought Allan Fung closer to parity. … Raimondo played up her administration’s record on taxes and regulations to buttress her case to small businesses, as the Rhode Island Manufacturing Association gave her its first-ever endorsement. … The NEARI teacher’s union surprised observers by endorsing Raimondo, despite lingering bitterness over the 2011 pension law. … Fung went up with a new TV ad featuring testimonials from small-business owners in Cranston; he plans a rally at HQ today and a Twin Oaks fundraiser next week. … Fung targeted Raimondo over the Rhode Island Training School, while touting a city surplus of $173,000. … Joe Trillo will hold a Meet & Greet to discuss small businesses Saturday afternoon at Quality Auto Repair in Central Falls. … The DGA dropped another $1 million into the race to support Raimondo, and its affiliate released new TV ads tying Fung to President Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. … The Rhode Island GOP flagged the DGA’s failure to disclose its donors on time; the Democrats belatedly did so Friday, while criticizing the RGA’s record on campaign finance. … Morning Consult pegged Raimondo’s job rating at 44% approve, 47% disapprove. She’s in the bottom 10 of all governors, while Charlie Baker is still No. 1. … Democratic AG nominee Peter Neronha went up with his first TV ad.

4. We have another big TV debate coming up on WPRI 12 next week – Democratic House Speaker Nick Mattiello and Republican challenger Steve Frias will join Tim White and me Friday in studio to tape a special commercial-free edition of Newsmakers. Only Cranston voters can cast a ballot, but the result could affect the whole state.

5. Our weekly dispatch from WPRI.com’s Dan McGowan: “The first Providence mayoral debate of the general election unfolded predictably this week, with independent challenger Dee Dee Witman laying out all the reasons she believes the city has lost its way under Mayor Elorza, and the incumbent touting the progress he believes the city has made during his tenure. Witman landed some punches – she raised questions about the mayor’s leadership when it comes to his long-running dispute with the teachers and his handling of the bus strike. But she struggled to offer solutions for many of the problems she was highlighting. Elorza largely deflected Witman’s attacks, suggesting at several points that there are no easy solutions for improving Providence’s schools or erasing a $1-billion unfunded pension liability. There were fireworks near the end of the debate when Witman claimed ‘crime is up precipitously’ and Elorza warned the audience to ‘beware of a politician that plays loose with the facts.’ The truth is somewhere in the middle. Crime in Providence has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years, but Witman is right that certain crimes in certain neighborhoods have increased between 2017 and 2018. If Witman is going to make a serious run at Elorza, she’s going to have to get moving. Her first campaign finance report released this week showed she had spent a little under $25,000 on the race so far, but she did follow through on a promise to loan her campaign $500,000.”

6. Fall River’s mayor insists he has no intention to leave office despite getting indicted on fraud charges Thursday. Will the City Council take action against him Tuesday night? Also, don’t miss Tim White on how the mayor apparently misled voters in last fall’s TV debate, and Walt Buteau on who’s donating to his legal defense fund. CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas also made a good point: “For all the talk about the rough-and-tumble of big city politics, the backstabbing, intrigue, and assorted power plays can often be much more brutal in small cities like Fall River, where everyone knows everyone.”

7. More from Mass. … Stonehill’s Peter Ubertaccio explains why the first TV debate for governor kept Charlie Baker in pole position. … UMass Dartmouth’s Shannon Jenkins says we should be watching Peter Tedeschi’s challenge to incumbent Bill Keating in the 9th Congressional District, which runs from New Bedford out to the Cape and Islands.

8. When President Trump took office in January 2017, it was unclear how much say Rhode Island’s two Democratic senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, would have in the appointment of the state’s next U.S. attorney and federal judge. Remember: this is the first time that Rhode Island has had two Democratic senators while Republicans controlled the White House and Congress since 1954. Though there is a long tradition of deference to senators when it comes to home-state appointments, in theory GOP leaders could have ignored their preferences. Early on, the prospects for compromise looked dicey: the White House and the senators were in a war of words within six months. In the end, though, Trump came around to support Mary McElroy, the same judicial nominee the senators and President Obama unsuccessfully tried to get confirmed in 2015. McElroy’s approval this week by the Judiciary Committee coincided with Trump’s nomination of a U.S. attorney supported by both senators: Aaron Weisman, who’s been in the Rhode Island attorney general’s office for years, including when Whitehouse was AG.

9. Sheldon Whitehouse and Bob Flanders met for their first televised debate Tuesday night on WPRI – if you missed it, Dan McGowan has a full recap here, and it will be airing again this weekend. The Flanders campaign is hoping the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have damaged Whitehouse with voters, but the senator’s campaign continues to think the issue will not shift the dynamic in the race significantly. Meanwhile, just two days after giving President Trump a letter grade of “D for dangerous” in the debate, Whitehouse found himself in the Oval Office for the president to sign his Save Our Seas Act. The video is worth watching – at one point Trump turns to an aide, presumably chief of staff John Kelly, and remarks, “Can you imagine – Trump and Whitehouse in the same area? It’s alright. Hey, I have a lot of respect.”

10. Democrats in the Rhode Island Senate didn’t wait long to react to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. The Senate Democratic Policy Caucus reports it’s already begun developing legislation that will counter his potential rulings on topics including health care, abortion, labor law and civil rights.

11. Candidates who were unsuccessful in last month’s primary reported this week how much their campaigns wound up costing – including out of their own pockets. … Democrat Matt Brown’s bid for governor came in at $386,000, plus another $92,000 in unpaid bills (with only $18,000 left in the bank); Brown spent $157,000 of his own money. … Republican Patricia Morgan’s expenses totaled $295,000, with no bills left to pay; Morgan spent $92,000 of her own money. … Democrat Aaron Regunberg’s campaign for LG cost $700,000, with no bills left to pay; Regunberg spent $125,000 of his own money.

12. Our friends at 89.3 FM Rhode Island Public Radio – former WRNI – have a new name: The Public’s Radio. CEO Torey Malatia explains the new name here, and how it relates to the station’s expansion.

13. Three major business stories this week: the Justice Department cleared CVS Health’s takeover of Aetna (read Josh Barro on the case for optimism there) … Providence-based Deepwater Wind was bought for $510 million by Ørsted of Denmark … and Providence Place is replacing Nordstrom with Boscov’s.

14. With new iPhones coming out, a reminder that Rhode Island’s own Citizens Bank managed to beat out bigger lenders to be Apple’s financing partner.

15. Are you in the middle class? This Pew Research calculator will tell you.

16. Why you should be skeptical about headline-grabbing nutrition studies.

17. After 60 years, hear Frank Sinatra try (and fail) to record “Lush Life.”

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – an encore presentation of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate debate between Sheldon Whitehouse and Bob Flanders. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Catch Newsmakers and Executive Suite back-to-back on your radio 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 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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