PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea announced Sunday night she is running for Rhode Island governor in 2022, kicking off what’s expected to be a hard-fought primary with the office open for the first time in eight years.
“Nellie Gorbea for Governor,” the header on her campaign website trumpeted by 9:30 p.m. Sunday, shortly after the two-term Democratic secretary of state told supporters she planned to announce her run. (Gorbea’s revamped website was put behind a password less than an hour after 12 News revealed its existence; a campaign adviser said the official rollout would happen at midnight.)
“Today, after six-and-a-half years of working as your secretary of state, I’m thrilled to announce I’m running to be your governor,” Gorbea said in the video, released in English and Spanish. “I’m running for governor to build a better Rhode Island, to make government more accountable to the people, to bring diverse voices to the table, and connect people to hopeful opportunities that will help them thrive.”
Gorbea did not answer a phone call from 12 News on Sunday night.
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Gorbea becomes the first elected Democrat to formally announce plans to challenge Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, the former lieutenant governor, who inherited the office in March when then-Gov. Gina Raimondo left Rhode Island to become President Biden’s commerce secretary.
McKee has not formally kicked off his campaign for 2022, but said that he is still planning to run.
“So, right now, we’re going to focus on the stuff that we’re working on, but understanding that, that’s coming, right? We’re only a few months away from many announcements, including mine,” McKee told reporters at an event Monday morning.
“We’ll focus on the work in the office, but we also know that the primary and the general election is coming, and the state of Rhode Island will decide who’s best equipped to lead the state out of the pandemic and into the future,” he said.
Gorbea is one of multiple candidates expected to jump into the race, along with General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who received 1.7% of the vote running as an independent in 2018, has already announced his candidacy as a Democrat. So far no Republican has announced plans to run.
Magaziner is the best-funded among those expected to run, with $1.3 million in his campaign account as of March 31, according to his R.I. Board of Elections filings. Elorza is next, with $955,000 on hand, followed by Gorbea in third with $546,000. McKee lagged the others, with $450,000, while Muñoz had a little over $1,000.
The 2022 primary cycle is starting considerably earlier than the last open race for Rhode Island governor.
During the 2014 cycle, then-Providence Mayor Angel Taveras didn’t launch his campaign until October 2013, and then-General Treasurer Gina Raimondo didn’t follow until December 2013. A third Democrat, Clay Pell, waited until January 2014 to jump into the race. (The incumbent, independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee, had bowed out the prior September.)
Gorbea, a 53-year-old North Kingstown resident, was an underdog against fellow Democrat Guillaume de Ramel in the 2014 primary for secretary of state, but Gorbea wound up winning with 51% of the vote. That November, Rhode Island voters made her the first Hispanic person elected to statewide office in New England. She won re-election easily in 2018.
During a February taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Gorbea expressed no hesitation about running against McKee even with him as the incumbent governor.
“I think that voters are entitled to have choices, whether it be in the primary or the general election,” she said, adding, “I am flattered every time I go to the grocery store and somebody approaches me, thanks me for the work we’ve been doing, and encourages me to be their next governor.”
Gorbea and McKee clashed on Friday when she sent him a letter questioning why he had yet to announce plans to reopen the State House despite lifting most other coronavirus restrictions. McKee’s office quickly said the building will reopen June 1 and that the move had been in progress.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) 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