Hopefuls vie for R.I. governor seat

Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo are frontrunners for the Democratic nomination

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Democratic and Republican primary races for the 2014 gubernatorial election have been in flux during recent weeks as new candidates enter the race, fresh poll results redefine the contest’s frontrunners and campaign fundraising reports offer new takes on where the races are headed.

Candidates will compete for the office currently held by Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17, who announced Sept. 4 that he will not run for a second term and will instead use the power of the office to address the concerns of Rhode Islanders without having to devote energy to electoral politics.

Chafee, only the fourth governor in Rhode Island history to not seek a second term, leaves behind a complicated legacy. He spearheaded the state’s successful efforts to reduce wait time at the Division of Motor Vehicles but has remained widely unpopular in part due to tax hikes early in the term. Voters now look to gubernatorial candidates promising large-scale reform and economic improvement.

Though Rhode Island votes blue in national elections — no Republican presidential candidate has carried the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984 — since 1995 only Republican and Independent governors have been elected.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo are widely seen as the frontrunners in next year’s Democratic primary. The two have much in common — both are Harvard graduates with law degrees, and both are currently in their first terms as elected officials — but the election will likely focus on their differences. If elected, Taveras would be the state’s first Latino governor and Raimondo would be the first female governor.

Taveras wrote in an email to The Herald that his personal background and experience as mayor set him apart from the pack.

“My journey has taken me from Head Start to Harvard and then back to Providence, where as mayor I have worked to rescue a city on the brink and put the needs of people first. Today, our state needs a new direction, new ideas and a governor who will create the same opportunity I had as the son of a factory worker,” Taveras wrote.

If elected, Taveras would be the first Providence mayor to become governor since Dennis Roberts in 1950, Rhode Island Public Radio reported.

Though she has not officially announced her candidacy, Raimondo leads the 2014 gubernatorial race in fundraising, the Providence Journal reported. At the time of her most recent campaign finance report filing Oct. 31, her campaign account held $2.3 million, more money than any Rhode Island statewide elected official has raised in a non-election year, the Journal reported. Taveras’ campaign account held only about $760,000, around a third of Raimondo’s total.

Taveras, lacking in funds, leads in job performance ratings, with 57 percent of respondents rating his performance good or excellent compared to Raimondo’s 51 percent, according to the latest WPRI poll released Nov. 19. Taveras also received stronger support from within the party, with 67 percent of Democrats rating his performance good or excellent, compared to 51 percent for Raimondo.

A new possible player in the Democratic primary is Clay Pell, grandson of former Rhode Island Governor and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, who recently formed an exploratory committee. Like Raimondo and Taveras, Pell is a Harvard graduate, but he has no experience in state or local government. He has served as a military officer and worked for the Department of Education. His more liberal political views could appeal to activists and union members, RIPR reported.

On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and former Moderate Party candidate Ken Block have announced they will seek their party’s nomination.

Though Block originally announced his intent to run last May when he was head of the Moderate Party, he announced Oct. 28 he will run in the 2014 gubernatorial race as a Republican. Block said he would focus primarily on improving the state’s economy and education system, adding that social issues would be secondary, The Herald previously reported.

Fung is a Rhode Island College graduate, former lobbysist and former prosecutor for the attorney general’s office currently in his third term as mayor. His parents emigrated from Hong Kong to Rhode Island, and if elected, Fung would be the first Asian-American to hold statewide office in Rhode Island.

Fung said his approach to governing would be hands-on and aimed specifically at job creation, WPRI reported.

Fung has built a solid base of support, with 19 percent of voters selecting him as their preferred candidate for governor in an early October poll from the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, a significant advantage over the 9 percent of voters who chose Block. When Block ran for governor in 2010, he received 6.5 percent of the vote as a Moderate Party candidate, The Herald previously reported.

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