Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com — as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com and follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
1. One reason Seth Magaziner and his Democratic allies are struggling against Allan Fung is their inability to settle on a coherent critique of the GOP nominee. Is he a “nice guy” due to his personal qualities (as Jim Langevin said repeatedly over the summer) or a not-nice guy because he supports Kevin McCarthy (as Langevin told me Thursday)? Is he an “extreme” right-winger, as Democratic ads keep claiming, or “not an extremist,” as the No. 2 House Democrat said last month? Should voters focus on Fung’s own positions on issues like abortion? Fung counters that his current position on abortion puts him in line with moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Charlie Baker. Or should voters focus on Fung’s promised vote for Republican leadership in Congress, echoing the argument Sheldon Whitehouse made against Linc Chafee in 2006? “I think that’s the message they want to get across, but I don’t know if they have,” our political analyst Joe Fleming said on this week’s Newsmakers. Part of the challenge for Democrats has been Fung’s own opacity about his positions — at times he’s been less than clear about where he stands on abortion, an assault-weapons ban, or even Electoral Count Act reform. But on abortion in particular, Fung has now settled on a clear position: he supports the bipartisan Roe codification bill put forward by Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Tim Kaine. That allowed him to look into the camera at Tuesday night’s debate and tell voters: “I do not, and never said, nor will I ever support a national abortion ban or [to] criminalize it.” The sharpness of Democratic messaging over the final weeks of the race could play a big role in the eventual outcome.
2. If you missed our 2nd District debate Tuesday, you can watch the whole thing here. It’s split into sections by topic if you just want to hear the candidates on a certain subject.
3. One advantage Seth Magaziner has as the 2nd District race heads into the homestretch: money. Freshly filed campaign-finance reports show Magaziner had $881,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, significantly more than Fung, who had $664,000. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, since both political parties and their allied outside groups are also heavily involved in the contest. But as Shane Goldmacher explained in a recent piece, a dollar raised by a campaign is worth more than a dollar raised by an outside group when it comes to TV time, so Magaziner’s edge matters. Big-name Republicans continue working to help Fung close the gap: Politico reports Fung will be in Boston on Wednesday for a fundraiser headlined by No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise. Magaziner meanwhile is getting big-name help of his own, with U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh leading a rally for the Democratic nominee this morning in Providence. The race continues to be in the national spotlight: reporters from both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal showed up Thursday night for a Magaziner rally with Sheldon Whitehouse at Trigg’s.
4. Another source of financial firepower for Seth Magaziner is Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, whose four members were sitting on a combined $4.9 million in campaign cash as of Sept. 30. That’s even after three of them reported cutting six-figure checks to the Rhode Island Democratic Party last month: $125,000 each from Jack Reed and David Cicilline, and $100,000 from Jim Langevin. What about Sheldon Whitehouse? A spokesperson reports Whitehouse decided to raise new money for the party rather than making a transfer from his own campaign account, and has brought in over $100,000 so far. (Whitehouse may be looking to keep his own cash on hand number robust as he tries to scare off any big-name challengers for his 2024 re-election bid.)
5. Even as the spotlight has shifted to the 2nd Congressional District race, Dan McKee and Ashley Kalus continue battling it out in the campaign for governor. The Kalus campaign is taking a noticeably different approach from McKee’s press-shy primary rivals, holding news conferences nearly every day in an effort to garner coverage. Her efforts this week included a joint appearance with former Supreme Court Justice Bob Flanders about rolling back utility rate hikes and a proposal to deploy the National Guard to help with RIPTA’s staff shortage. Kalus also bowed to pressure and released the first pages of her 2022 taxes, though she withheld the full return and filed separately from her husband, leaving plenty of questions. Meanwhile, McKee and his administration continued to face questions about why Rhode Island is taking so much longer than Massachusetts to release standardized test scores from last spring. The governor’s campaign schedule included a big news conference where he was surrounded by his strongest political allies, the state’s municipal leaders, including Woonsocket’s mayor-in-exile Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. And next Wednesday McKee will get high-profile support from the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, who will be campaigning for him in Providence. McKee and Kalus have also added another debate to their schedules for the final weeks, a WPRO radio face-off that will happen on Halloween.
6. Though only Dan McKee and Ashley Kalus have registered significant support in public polling, there are actually five candidates for governor on next month’s ballot. For a closer look at the others, click the links for our 12 News Q&As with Elijah Gizzarelli, Zachary Hurwitz, and Paul Rianna.
7. If you really want to understand why campaigns do what they do, you should always remember that the typical voter and the typical adult are not the same person. AARP Rhode Island has offered fresh evidence of that in a newly released study: “Voters age 50 and up accounted for more than 70% of Rhode Island voters in the Sept. 13 primary election, according to an AARP Rhode Island analysis of voter records from the Office of the Rhode Island Secretary of State. … Municipal percentages ranged from 59% (Providence) to 87% (Narragansett). This year’s 50+ numbers increased over the last midterm election in 2018, when Rhode Islanders age 50 and over accounted for 67% of those who voted.” Put another way, nearly 100,000 of the 137,000 ballots cast in last month’s primary were filled out by someone who was at least 50 years old. (Disclosure: AARP is a sponsor of this year’s 12 News election coverage, though sponsors have no input into editorial decisions.)
8. Mark your calendars: Tim White drops his latest must-see Target 12 investigation Thursday at 5.
9. Rhode Islanders may think the race for Bristol County sheriff in Massachusetts sounds like small potatoes, but keep this in mind: the county has more residents than either one of Rhode Island’s congressional districts. Democrats have long been hungry to knock off 25-year GOP incumbent Tom Hodgson, particularly after he embraced Donald Trump, and they think they might finally have a chance with their nominee this year, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux. The race is resonating far beyond New Bedford and its environs — as NBC News’s Alex Seitz-Wald reported Friday, the contest is seen as one of the most important sheriff races in the country this year. And that’s why Heroux is getting significant outside help: two independent groups are spending money in a bid to oust the sheriff, one funded by Everytown for Gun Safety and the other by the Working Families Party. Their efforts include this new TV ad, as well as radio, digital and direct-mail advertising. Hodgson has been downplaying his connection with Trump as he fights to keep his seat, instead using a recent mailer to tout his endorsement from moderate GOP Gov. Charlie Baker; a super PAC aligned with Baker also just reported some big spending on Hodgson’s behalf. But the incumbent is facing renewed scrutiny of the high number of suicides in county jails on his watch following a recent inmate death in the Ash Street facility. (Here’s a Boston Globe editorial about it.) Hodgson and Heroux didn’t hold back during their first debate this week, aired on WBSM radio — and you can expect more fireworks next Friday when they tape their only scheduled TV debate on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.
10. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Eli Sherman: “House Speaker Joe Shekarchi is backing an effort to try and bolster the state’s biotech and life sciences industry, as laid out in two reports released this week by the Rhode Island Foundation. Shekarchi isn’t the first official drawn to the idea that Rhode Island might capture some of the benefits from an industry with a projected valuation of $1 trillion by 2030 nationwide, especially considering the state’s location between industry hubs Boston and New York. Rhode Island Foundation president and CEO Neil Steinberg quipped that he’s been hearing about potential industry spillover in Rhode Island for 40 years now. Nonetheless, Steinberg and Shekarchi are bullish that the time finally could be right, especially with a new $165 million development anchored by a state health laboratory slated to open in 2025. (CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will be in town Monday to highlight her agency’s role as a major funder of that project.) ‘I’m willing to lead the charge,’ Shekarchi told reporters last week, although he warned it wouldn’t work without buy-in from other legislative leaders and the state’s higher education and business institutions. The idea – floated by consultant JLL – mirrors a Massachusetts model started under former Gov. Deval Patrick, envisioning a new state agency seeded with $50 million over two years. Time will tell how much political capital Shekarchi is willing to put into championing another multimillion-dollar business incentive. But proponents of the idea believe the industry is one area of the economy where Rhode Island – with the right leadership – could make big strides that benefit people statewide. ‘This could provide great jobs,’ Steinberg said. ‘It’s not just an elite exercise and it’s not just a downcity exercise.’”
11. Steph Machado continues to keep a close eye on the Superman building deal, and this week we got a first look at how much it will cost to rent one of the proposed apartments there. Kim Kalunian asked Mayor Elorza on Friday’s 12 News at 4 whether the redeveloped building will be affordable for most Providence residents. “That’s a tough one,” Elorza replied. “We know we have a housing crisis throughout the city, and what’s clear is we need housing at every range of the price cycle. … I understand some folks have concerns about affordable housing, et cetera, in this project — you can’t accomplish everything on every project. It’s an absolute priority, and I don’t think anyone wants to see this building lay fallow, be blighted and be empty for another nine or 10 years.”
12. Downballot watch: Brian Amaral takes a closer look at Democratic treasurer nominee James Diossa’s far-flung travels when he was Central Falls mayor.
13. Here’s a special treat for you this Saturday morning — a dispatch by retired Providence Journal political scrivener M. Charles Bakst: “Former U.S. Attorney General Ben Civiletti, who served under President Carter, died last Sunday at 87 and fittingly, The New York Times ran a long obituary of his distinguished life. And though this didn’t surprise me, the obit left out a chapter in his career — OK, perhaps a modest chapter in his career, but a huge, colorful, sad chapter in the life of Rhode Island, and we should take note of it. Civiletti was special counsel to the 1986 R.I. House inquiry into the impeachment of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joe Bevilacqua. Civiletti hired a phalanx of lawyer/investigators who were at the right hand of inquiry chairman Rep. Jeff Teitz of Newport. The probe centered on Bevilacqua’s ties with criminals, liaisons with women, possible conflicts of interests and court favoritism. There was an incredible array of witnesses in televised hearings or private interviews. Bevilacqua’s lawyer was the late, legendary Richard Egbert. After stretching on for months, the inquiry ended when Bevilacqua, who’d denounced the hearings as a travesty, resigned. One witness who appeared privately was mob boss Raymond ‘Junior’ Patriarca. Eventually, I had a chance to talk with him by phone, for sort of a man-in-the-news column. Interesting guy, guarded, playful, shrewd. He told me Civiletti ‘came across as a real professional.’ At one point, Patriarca said something ‘off the record’ and I honored the request. He sent me a message saying he appreciated the piece. I showed it to Civiletti. He shook his head in disbelief. In Rhode Island, not only did the mob boss give press interviews, he sent thank you notes too!”
14. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has opened what is by all accounts a must-see exhibition on the periodical that defined midcentury America: “LIFE Magazine and the Power of Photography.” It runs through Jan. 16.
15. A security expert says many of us have gotten bad advice about passwords.
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a political roundtable breaks down this week’s WPRI 12 congressional debate between Allan Fung and Seth Magaziner. 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