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. Has Helena Foulkes peaked just in time, or too late? That’s the question Rhody political observers have been buzzing about over the last 48 hours, after the former CVS executive gave a well-received performance at Tuesday’s debate and then won The Boston Globe’s endorsement. Many still doubt that a candidate who was a political unknown just months ago can defeat a sitting governor and secretary of state, particularly in a Democratic primary with no union backing. But the Foulkes campaign argues this is an unusual race that could have an unusual outcome, noting that one in five voters were still undecided in our WPRI/RWU poll last month. Dan McKee has never approached majority support from primary voters, and his team has grown wary of Foulkes, launching a new attack ad Friday that targets her. Still, McKee’s team remains confident. They argue Foulkes had too much ground to make up to pull off an upset, and point to the long list of labor leaders who are putting rank-and-file muscle behind his effort to secure a full term. Nellie Gorbea can’t be written off, either — she has placed first or second in all the polls released so far, and is finally getting six-figure support from outside spending groups. But she’s also had the most brutal stretch of late-campaign news cycles any Rhode Island candidate has faced in recent years: the ballot snafus, the TV ad errors, the redboxing backlash, and Tuesday night’s whiff on home prices. Don’t overlook Matt Brown, either, though he faces an even steeper climb than Foulkes: Bernie Sanders endorsed him Thursday, helping cement Brown’s status as the candidate for left-wing voters, and he’s got the force multiplier of other candidates running under his Rhode Island Political Cooperative’s banner. If Brown receives just 10% of the vote — let alone 15% or more — he will scramble the math for the better-polling candidates. Luis Daniel Muñoz will add to that effect depending on his final total, too.
2. With the final pre-primary weekend upon us, campaigns are focused on get-out-the-vote efforts and other strategies to win support before the polls close. One of the biggest names in Democratic politics — Nancy Pelosi — confirmed she is coming to Providence on Sunday to headline a rally for Helena Foulkes. (You can read the backstory on their relationship here.) Dan McKee is spending big to run the famous TV ad featuring his mom during the first Patriots game on Sunday, and this morning the governor is doing lit drops in Warwick and North Kingstown. Nellie Gorbea has multiple events on her schedule for the weekend, including get-out-the-vote rallies on Saturday (hosted by the carpenters union) and Sunday (at her Providence headquarters). Matt Brown is holding a canvass launch for Rhode Island Political Cooperative candidates this morning in Warwick, with another possible on Sunday. As she waits to find out who the Democratic nominee will be, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus is planning a “Rally for Rhode Island” with Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz on Saturday at her Warwick headquarters. The secretary of state’s turnout tracker shows roughly 24,000 ballots had been cast by mail or early voting as of Friday night, and 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said he thinks the number of pre-primary-day votes could reach roughly 30,000 by Monday night, “a significant number.” How many people will show up from there? It’s among the biggest questions about Tuesday — some predict limited voter enthusiasm, which could see Democratic turnout as low as roughly 100,000. But turnout back in 2018 was more robust than expected — coming in at 118,000 — so it’s also possible that interest in the election is being underestimated. For his part, Fleming said he thinks a lower turnout will benefit McKee by magnifying the union vote.
3. Even before the Latino Victory Fund went on the air with a six-figure TV buy attacking Dan McKee and Helena Foulkes to help Nellie Gorbea, the group was facing allegations of flouting Rhode Island law. The spot lashes Foulkes as “basically a Republican” for donating to Mitch McConnell, and says McKee “needs to lawyer up” due to the FBI investigation into the ILO contract. But McKee’s team cried foul even before the spot was public, saying Latino Victory Fund failed to file its required disclosure form with the Board of Elections within 24 hours; the group said it interpreted the law differently. Yet that wasn’t all: later in the week the group quietly deleted the first version of its ad from YouTube, replacing it with a new one. What changed? The B-roll of Gorbea at the end was initially from the controversial “red box” on her website, then got swapped out for still photos instead. McKee’s team says that shows Latino Victory Fund knows it violated a Rhode Island law which bars such sharing of visual material; the fund didn’t respond Friday when I asked if that’s correct. More glaringly, the ad’s final screen doesn’t disclose the top five donors who helped paid for it, even though such disclosures have become standard in Rhode Island since the General Assembly passed a tough disclosure law back in 2012. The Latino Victory Fund has not answered my question about that issue, either. Asked about the missing donor disclosures, Gorbea’s campaign said: “All groups spending in this race should follow Rhode Island campaign finance law.” Ric Thornton, the Board of Elections’ no-nonsense director of campaign finance, said Friday he was aware of the omission and noted that the first step in any investigation is seeking an explanation.
4. As he looks ahead to Tuesday’s primary, Dan McKee can take comfort from history. McKee is the 11th lieutenant governor to serve as governor since the start of the 20th century, and a governor who’d previously served as LG hasn’t lost an election since 1902, when Lucius F.C. Garvin defeated Charles Kimball. (Thank you to the folks at the State Library for researching that bit of trivia for me.)
5. With just days to go before the Democratic primary, a lot of outside money is pouring into the 2nd Congressional District, most of it focused on frontrunner Seth Magaziner. A big mystery: who’s behind the blizzard of mailers attacking Magaziner that landed in 2nd District mailboxes on Thursday? The mailers say they’re funded by something called “Ocean State Forward,” but so far that group’s FEC filings reveal nothing about about who paid the $102,000 tab. One sign it’s likely an intraparty hit: the D.C. operative doing the paperwork for the group, Jennifer May, is a Democratic consultant. But another new outside group is coming to Magaziner’s aid: Web3 Forward, a super PAC backed by cryptocurrency traders, has disclosed spending $163,000 on a late TV ad buy talking up the state treasurer. David Segal, who is running to Magaziner’s left, has also been the beneficiary of some late interventions — the Working Families Party PAC is spending $87,500 to support him with a streaming ad and phonebanking, and Bernie Sanders gave Segal his endorsement on Thursday. Sarah Morgenthau has continued a robust TV advertising push and lots of stops on the campaign trail, while Joy Fox and Omar Bah are also continuing to campaign. At this point, a Magaziner loss would count as a major upset. Presuming he does indeed get the party nod to face Allan Fung in November, though, it will still be interesting to see whether Magaziner’s victory is decisive — and how the other candidates do.
6. Tuesday’s primary races for General Assembly may be getting overshadowed by the big federal and statewide contests, but don’t underestimate the way they could reshape Smith Hill come January. The biggest one to watch is Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s rematch against progressive challenger Lenny Cioe up in North Providence and some bordering Providence neighborhoods — the Senate leader’s defeat would be a political earthquake, especially when paired with the already-announced retirement of his No. 2, Mike McCaffrey. Independent journalist Sam G. Howard counts 40 Democrat-versus-Democrat primaries for House and Senate, and if a significant number of progressive challengers secure victory, it could move State House policy further to the left next year.
7. With Peter Neronha facing no Democratic primary challengers for attorney general, and Gregg Amore heavily favored to defeat Stephanie Beauté for secretary of state, the most closely watched down-ballot races are the contests for Providence mayor, general treasurer and lieutenant governor. … Mayoral hopefuls Brett Smiley, Gonzalo Cuervo and Nirva LaFortune are all working to lock down their core vote in different parts of the city, as Smiley remains the only one of the three airing TV ads, though the other two have both landed some headline-grabbing endorsements. … The general treasurer’s race has been contentious. Stefan Pryor and his backers have successfully raised questions about how James Diossa managed Central Falls’ finances, but Diossa has gotten support from Sheldon Whitehouse and David Cicilline in crying foul over TV ads being run by an outside group. With 61% of primary voters undecided in our WPRI/RWU poll a month ago, Diossa allies are hoping his deep support among the party establishment will offset Pryor’s money and the divided loyalties of organized labor. … In the primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent Sabina Matos remains the candidate to beat; Deb Ruggiero has been touring the state and criticizing Matos for refusing additional TV debates, while Cynthia Mendes is hoping progressive energy for the Co-op ticket led by Matt Brown could help her score an upset.
8. It’s notable that the Rhode Island Republican Party has no major primary contests on the ballot Tuesday beyond a few scattered legislative races. While the GOP is very much the minority party, home to only 14% of registered voters in the state, Republicans have still had a major primary fight in many recent midterms: Fung/Morgan in 2018, Fung/Block in 2014, Chafee/Laffey in 2006, Carcieri/Bennett in 2002, Almond/Machtley in 1994. But this year Republican leaders made a concerted effort to forestall divisive primary fights, most notably in the 2nd Congressional District, where Jessica de la Cruz and Bob Lancia both dropped out and backed Allan Fung. Gubernatorial frontrunner Ashley Kalus has a challenger, Jonathan Riccitelli, but on Friday he found himself explaining his criminal record to The Globe. All this has left the GOP with a slate of federal and statewide candidates who have been able to mostly focus on the general election from the start — could that pay dividends in November?
9. You know you’ll want to be watching TV as primary results roll in Tuesday night, so stick with 12 News for complete coverage. Our election special starts at 9 p.m. on WPRI 12, followed by extended coverage on 12 News at 10 and 11, with race calls and analysis from Joe Fleming and me, plus live reports in the field from a team of reporters including Tim White, Kim Kalunian and Steph Machado. Tune in!
10. Considering the national political climate of late, it seems like an inopportune moment for Rhode Island elections administrators to have a series of very public ballot screw-ups. But here we are. Steph Machado has been all over the story since she and Tim White broke the news last week about errant candidate names being put onto Spanish-language electronic ballots; Steph’s latest report Friday laid out the debate sparked by Mayor Elorza over whether to remove the new ExpressVote machines at the center of the snafu. The Board of Elections still plans to count the ballots made on those machines before the problems were fixed, even though some voters clicked on candidate names from 2018 when they were making their choices for this year. Important context: elections officials say only 55 voters used the machines in question. Yet those officials have no way of identifying which ballots were created using the inaccurate screens, nor which 55 voters even used the machines to create their ballots. Senate Oversight Chairman Lou DiPalma is among those who’ve suggested there should be a post-election review of the division of labor between the Board of Elections and the secretary of state’s office. Meanwhile, the Board of Elections just scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday morning.
11. Massachusetts’ newly minted Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey trooped to New Bedford on Thursday for her first post-primary campaign stop in this region, getting a tour of the waterfront from Mayor Jon Mitchell alongside Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, who is now Healey’s running mate. Speaking to reporters, Healey insisted Bristol County won’t be an afterthought for her if she wins Beacon Hill’s top job, acknowledging how frequently the region feels forgotten. Healey is heavily favored to defeat GOP nominee Geoff Diehl, who is supported by Donald Trump but not Charlie Baker, and who has hardly any cash to counter Healey’s war chest. The first poll of the race, released Thursday, put Healey at 52% and Diehl at 34%. I asked Healey how she expects to generate excitement when many are characterizing her campaign as something more akin to a coronation. “Well, I don’t believe polls,” Healey told me. “The job that we have is to go out, meet as many residents as possible here on the South Coast and across this state, and connect with as many voters as possible to ask for their support. … I think we’ve seen a lot of excitement and enthusiasm since Tuesday night after the polls closed and this ticket was announced.”
12. More on Massachusetts: read Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky on the big takeaways from the Bay State primary, and the New Bedford Light’s Jack Spillane on post-primary squabbling between the Democrats who ran to challenge longtime Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson.
13. Eye on Washington … Jack Reed wants to push through the must-pass defense policy bill known as the NDAA this month … Sheldon Whitehouse is cool to the Joe Manchin–Chuck Schumer deal on permitting reform for energy projects … David Cicilline saw his journalism antitrust bill suffer a Senate setback (and revealed plans to open a downtown bar) … Jim Langevin is back from a trip to Italy where he got to meet Pope Francis … Gina Raimondo scored a big Wall Street Journal profile after passage of the CHIPS Act … Jake Auchincloss penned a FoxNews.com op-ed on the way forward in Afghanistan.
14. Here’s a dispatch from my Target 12 colleague Tolly Taylor: “If you have a child in Rhode Island K-12 public schools, you’ve likely been hearing about staffing shortages for months. For the first time, we’ve been able to get some data to help quantify what that shortage looks like. A new five-question survey of every district superintendent by 12 News shows nearly 80% of them have a shortage, with some specifying a lack of paraprofessionals, math specialists, special education teachers, or social workers, to name a few. We also asked superintendents to explain how inflation is impacting their districts, and what their single biggest challenge is heading into the new school year. You can find each superintendent’s response to the questions on our website here.”
15. Don’t miss Alex Kuffner’s deep dive on what went wrong with the Labor Day flooding.
16. Longtime readers know I’m a bit of an Anglophile, due in part to a semester spent in London as a college junior. So while actuarially the death of a 96-year-old shouldn’t come as a shock, it’s still hard for me to believe Queen Elizabeth II has exited the world stage. With so much coverage, it’s also hard to know what is actually worth reading and watching. Let me make just one recommendation: take a few minutes and watch this warm and funny remembrance by one of her former bodyguards.
17. This week on Newsmakers — a political roundtable recaps the Democratic gubernatorial primary debate and looks ahead to next Tuesday. 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.