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Candidates crowd primary elections

Candidates from federal, state, local races urge students to turn out, vote in Rhode Island

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

This article is part of The Herald’s ongoing coverage of the 2018 Rhode Island elections.

The penultimate primary in the country will take place a week from today in Rhode Island and will decide the party candidates in several state elections, including in mayoral, gubernatorial and federal races. No independent candidates are involved in primary elections.

A photo ID is necessary to vote in the Sept. 12 primaries. The deadline to register to vote in this year’s Nov. 6 general election is Oct. 7.

United States Congress

In the upcoming race for the U.S. House of Representatives, the University falls in House District 1 — where incumbent David Cicilline ’83 is running against  Christopher Young, who has run in both U.S. Senate and House races, as well as for mayor of Providence multiple times. Patrick Donovan and Frederick Wysocki are squaring off on the Republican ballot. Donovan did not respond by press time and The Herald was unable to reach out to Wysocki for comment.

Of Rhode Island’s two sitting Democratic senators, only Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., is up for re-election this year. He is challenged from the left by Patricia Fontes, a peace activist. Whitehouse did not respond by press time, while Fontes could not be reached for comment. Vying for the Republican ticket are Rhode Island attorney and former Associate R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders Jr. ’71  and businessman Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente, a California resident who is running simultaneously in six different states. De la Fuente could not be reached for comment.

“In my race, national issues predominate, though as I learn from every visit to a senior center, all politics are local,” Flanders wrote in an email to The Herald.

While both the U.S. House and Senate have upcoming elections, “the big contest is in the House this time around,” said Professor of Political Science Richard Arenberg. Twenty-six of the 35 Senate seats up for re-election this term are defended by Democrats, which means Democrats would have to win all of their seats and flip two seats currently held by Republicans to achieve a majority.  The race is tighter for the House, where approximately 30 seats are considered toss-ups —  creating an opportunity for Democrats to turn the currently red House blue.

Arenberg said there is “a tendency to maybe underestimate the possibility of Democrats also taking the Senate.” There are six closely contested races — four held by Republicans and two by Democrats, according to the New York Times.

Rhode Island has historically elected Democrats to Congress since the 1940s, according to Ballotpedia, and is considered a solidly blue state. But while “it’s a very blue state, it’s full of different shades of blue. You have those very progressive Democrats and you also have some Democrats who may, in other parts of the country, feel more like Republicans,” said Alexander Cramer ’21, Brown Democrats’ communications director.

“It’s really important for anyone living in Rhode Island, whether a student or otherwise, … to take the responsibility both to find out who their candidates are and not necessarily just vote based on who the party will elect as a candidate,” Cramer added.

Both the Brown Democrats and the Brown Republicans told The Herald they plan to wait for the outcomes of the primaries to champion the winning candidates.

Rhode Island’s population is represented by two representatives in the House, though this could decrease to one representative for the 2022 elections following the 2020 census; in 2017, Rhode Island was 157 residents away from losing a representative, according to WPRI.

R.I. Governor

The race for governor is hotly contested this year, with three Democrats and three Republicans vying to represent their parties. While Rhode Island is solidly blue at the federal level, gubernatorial control of the state has historically swung between Democrats and Republicans.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, elected in 2014, was the first Democratic governor of Rhode Island to be elected since 1990, according to Ballotpedia. If she wins the Democratic primary, as predicted by a July 2018 poll conducted by Fleming & Associates, Raimondo will most likely face Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in the November general election. The same poll shows Fung, who nearly beat Raimondo in 2014, just 2.2 percent behind Raimondo.   

Raimondo also faces challenges from the left from former Democratic State Rep. Spencer Dickinson and former Secretary of State Matt Brown. Brown has drummed up local and national support from former governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee ’75, as well as an endorsement from Our Revolution, a political action organization inspired by Bernie Sanders, among others. Brown did not respond by press time.

In the Republican primary, Fung is running against businessman, former state senator and military officer Giovanni Feroce and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, as previously reported by The Herald. Fung, Feroce and Morgan could not be reached for comment.

The Brown Republicans plan to focus their efforts on the “especially tight” gubernatorial race, said Brown Republicans President Nicholas Guarino ’20, adding that the group also has its eye on the upcoming Senate election.

Providence Mayor

Mayor Jorge Elorza faces challenges from Kobi Dennis, director of a mentorship program for youth of color named Princes 2 Kings, and Robert DeRobbio, a former educator currently running the nonprofit Resources for R.I. Education. Elorza and DeRobbio could not be reached for comment.

Lieutenant Governor

Incumbent Dan McKee, who has been in office since 2015, faces off against State Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12, D-Warwick, in the Democratic primary. Paul Pence is the sole Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

Local politics are “our last line of defense” from Republican Washington policy, Regunberg said.

McKee could not be reached for comment.

R.I. State Senate and House Representatives

University students will be voting in District 1 and District 3 for state House and Senate representatives, respectively.

“This election differs from past cycles. … Because of national politics, (people) are really paying attention to what’s going on at the State House,” said Gayle Goldin, who is running for reelection uncontested to represent District 1 in the State General Assembly, which includes the University.

In District 3 for the state Senate, current State Sen. Edith Ajello, D-Bristol, Warwick and Providence, faces no opposition either in her primary or from a Republican candidate.

Ajello could not be reached for comment.

City Council

The University falls under the jurisdiction of Ward 2. Helen Anthony, Mark Feinstein and Ryan Holt are running for an open Ward 2 City Council seat. There is also a competitive city council race in Ward 1 with councilman Seth Yurdin running against community organizer Justice Gaines ’16.

The Herald did not reach out to the candidates for comment.

Other Races

Democrat Peter Neronha is running uncontested for attorney general.

Primaries for secretary of state and general treasurer are also uncontested. Incumbent Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea will be challenged by Republican Pat Cortelessa in the general election, and incumbent General Treasurer Seth Magaziner will face competition from Republican Michael Riley.

The Herald did not reach out to the candidates for comment.

Where to Vote?

On the whole, R.I. candidates encourage students to vote where they live — in Rhode Island.

“It is important to vote in the state in which you reside,” Young said.

“Rhode Island needs your passionate commitment to bring change to our state and our nation. I strongly encourage you to register to vote in Rhode Island,” Raimondo wrote in an email to The Herald.

Dennis also emphasized the importance of student participation. “College students should be active, informed participants and vote, but it should be up to them whether they vote in their home state or Rhode Island if Rhode Island isn’t where they are from. They are critical with great ideas, and we need their involvement,” he wrote in an email to The Herald.   

“The idea that out-of-state students lack a vision of the long-term commitment to the community is an outmoded concept that fails to credit the students with representing the long term interests of the students who follow them,” Pence wrote in an email to The Herald. “Each of us should establish residency and vote accordingly, without concern that their voices are unwelcome in whichever state they choose to vote in.”

Regunberg encouraged students to be politically engaged both in their hometowns and while at school. “I would definitely encourage folks, if you’re following closely a swing district race from back home, to make your voice count in that district. But if you’re not from that situation, I would think where you live, you want to be invested in that; you want to know what’s going on; you want to be able to make your voice heard. And so I think people have a lot to gain from following local politics and having a say, and one of the ways you have that say is you vote,” Regunberg said.

Regardless of where students vote, candidates encourage engagement in the community beyond College Hill.

“You can’t build a fence around Brown. It’s got to be part of the city,” Dickinson said.

If you are “living here for four years, I think you’re expected to become part of the community that you’re living in for that long,” Cicilline added.

“It’s important to realize that even if you aren’t a Rhode Island voter, that you realize that the voice of students from Brown is very important up at the State House, and you have so much energy and capacity to influence good public policy by coming up and sharing their voice and continuing to be actively engaged,” Goldin said.

Despite  concerns about youth disengagement with politics, “I see a much higher level of interest in this election among my students than before—not just interest, but I think commitment to act, commitment to vote,” Arenberg said.