PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s top candidates for governor embarked on a last-minute round of campaigning Monday as they sought to win over undecided voters two days before the primary election.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, who is seeking a second term, kicked off the day at the Pawtucket YMCA accompanied by her son, Tommy, who had the day off from school for Rosh Hashanah. Raimondo told a classroom of four-year-olds she will bring universal pre-K classes to Rhode Island if she wins in November.
“I am committing, in a second term, to put the money in the state budget so that every four-year-old who wants to go to pre-K can go to a public pre-K,” she said. Her plan would add about 70 classes each year over five years, at an estimated annual cost of about $15 million.
“I don’t think you should have to be wealthy to have a chance to have good, high-quality pre-K,” Raimondo said.
From there, Raimondo made campaign stops across Providence, visiting the Xaco Taco restaurant, the River House student-housing project, and Angelo’s and Scialo Brothers Bakery on Federal Hill. She also went to Brewed Awakenings in Johnston, and visited senior centers.
Raimondo’s leading Democratic primary rival, former Secretary of State Matt Brown, spent Monday on the fourth and final day of his roughly 60-mile walk across the state to greet voters, including lunch at Tavern by the Sea in Wickford and dinner at Crazy Burger in Narragansett.
“We’re on the verge of a major political upset here,” Brown declared.
Brown once again criticized Raimondo for refusing to debate him during the primary. “To not do one debate is unacceptable in our democracy,” he said.
Raimondo continued to dismiss the criticism. “Voters see me every single day – I talk to the press every single day – voters know where I stand,” she said.
A third Democratic candidate, former state Rep. Spencer Dickinson, said he was not out campaigning Monday, but has spoken to many people who remain undecided. He said he thinks the race is now between Brown and him due to Raimondo’s refusal to debate.
In the Republican primary, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan was out meeting voters at Natale’s Deli in East Greenwich, where she said voters have been telling her they were turned off by rival Allan Fung’s decision to avoid televised candidate forums.
“We have really seen a surge in the last two weeks because of his unwillingness to debate,” she said, describing her campaign as “very competitive.”
Morgan also said she has received a positive response to her announcement that she will tap fellow Republicans Arlene Violet, Ken Block and John Robitaille as advisers if she wins. “I’ve actually got the experience in the State House, and I have a good team of people who are willing to join me,” she said.
Fung, the Cranston mayor, joined a phone bank at his Warwick campaign headquarters during the afternoon as his staff continued its outreach to voters ahead of Wednesday. He dismissed Morgan’s contention that his debate policy was a problem for primary voters.
“I’m not hearing a lot about it except from Patricia’s inside team that’s trying to create more of an issue than it really is,” he said.
Fung also tried to cast her experience as a negative, saying, “A budget that’s been out of control and up to $9.6 billion, and she’s been a part of it. … She’s been nothing more than a political insider up at that State House for years now.”
A third Republican candidate, businessman Giovanni Feroce, released a video Monday highlighting his combat service in Iraq, including a lengthy clip of Fung praising him. “I am a warrior and leader, one that our state desperately needs,” Feroce tweeted.
The candidates also weighed in on Raimondo’s pre-K proposal. Brown, her fellow Democrat, said he also supports universal public pre-K, but questioned the governor’s timing.
“Election season promises right before the primary are not as important as looking at someone’s record, and Governor Raimondo’s record has been looking out for corporations, looking out for Wall Street, not looking out for the children of this state,” he said, citing her management of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Fung and Morgan, by contrast, both said they oppose universal public pre-K.
“It’s nothing more than a desperate political Hail Mary from our governor,” Fung said. “If she was so serious about this situation with pre-K, why wait until two days before the primary to announce it? It’s our governor who’s desperate.”
“That $15 million is going to be a cost, if it passes, that’s going to be imposed on cities and towns that are still financially transitioning to the all-day kindergarten that had been mandated on every municipality in this state just a few short years ago,” he said.
Morgn said, “I actually support K-12.” She said statistics show 61% of Rhode Island students are not reading and writing on grade level, and almost 70% are not doing math on grade level.
“I think we really need to focus on giving teachers instructional freedom, making sure that every child is reading, writing and doing math on grade level,” she said. “Let’s put our resources there, our effort there and make sure every child who graduates is ready for the adult world.”
All the major candidates indicated they will debate their opponents on television this fall if they win Wednesday. Fung said he was willing to do so even if the debates include conservative independent Joe Trillo, as long as Trillo meets the same criteria required for all candidates.
Fung received assistance Monday from Sean Spicer, President Trump’s former White House press secretary and a Barrington native, who was in Rhode Island on Sunday to headline a fundraiser for the state GOP. Spicer praised Fung during morning radio appearances and tweeted his support, as well.
The Democratic Governors Association sought to turn that into a negative for Fung, arguing in a news release that he was following the Trump playbook by accepting Spicer’s support and targeting undocumented immigrants in a recent mailer.
Asked Monday to give Trump a letter grade, Fung said, “I would say probably a B. I think he’s done a good job with the economy. Certainly I don’t act like the president.” He mentioned last year’s tax cuts as one example. (Morgan refused to give Trump a letter grade during a debate last week.)
The Democratic and Republican winners will face Trillo, Moderate William Gilbert and independents Anne Armstrong and Luis-Daniel Muñoz in the November election.
Carl Sisson contributed to this report.