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Nontraditional candidates spice up 2010 governor's race in R.I.

A year before voters go to the polls, the race for the governorship of Rhode Island already promises to be different from most political contests in the United States. Along with one Republican and two Democratic candidates currently in the running, the race features a high-profile independent candidate and an ambitious third party.

All are vying to replace Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri '65, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election in 2010.

"It has the potential to be a very unique general election," said former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee '75, who is running as an independent. 

Rhode Island's General Treasurer Frank Caprio and Attorney General Patrick Lynch '87 will face off in the Democratic primary, while East Greenwich businessman Rory Smith is the only declared Republican candidate. 

The newly formed Moderate Party of Rhode Island also intends to compete in the race. Though the party does not yet have a nominee, Executive Director Christine Hunsinger MPP'08 said the party is currently in talks with more than ten potential candidates.

The campaign will hinge on economic issues if Rhode Island's fiscal struggles and job woes continue, said Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science. 
Democrats enjoy a supermajority in both chambers of the general assembly, but Republicans have held the governorship for 15 years. As a result, Schiller said, voters tend not to blame the state's poor economic performance on either party, but on politicians in general.

This would give an "advantage to Chafee," who left the GOP in 2007, she said.

Though there has been no independent polling of the race in recent months, the Chafee campaign recently released the results of a telephone survey it commissioned, which showed Chafee ahead in three-way races with Smith and either Caprio or Lynch.

Schiller said Chafee, a former visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, showed leadership on environmental and foreign policy as a United States senator. But "I don't know how credible Chafee is" on the state's economy, she said.

In such a crowded field, the former senator would "run on the Chafee name" rather than try to "position himself on the ideological spectrum," she said.

The Chafee family has been active in Ocean State politics for over a century, and Chafee's father, John Chafee, had held his Senate seat for nearly a quarter century before him.
Chafee said he believes the budget process is integral to righting the economy and that the state should "cut our expenditures as much as we can."

He also said that the unique convergence of air, rail and interstate highway infrastructure in Warwick presents an important opportunity for economic growth.

"I want to make sure that that area prospers and grows," he said.

Another development adding uncertainty to the race is the emergence of the Moderate Party, which will be fielding a candidate in a statewide race for the first time.

Hunsinger said the Moderate Party intends to bring "pragmatism" to state politics. "We've done studies on every issue that's out there," she said. "It's time to make some common-sense decisions" and "stop spending money that's not well-spent."

Hunsinger said 47 percent of the state budget goes to the "social safety net," but the bureaucracy administering social services is inefficiently structured. She said better coordination between state agencies and more astute use of technology could bring down costs significantly. 

Rhode Island also needs to bring its business taxes in line with the rest of the Northeast, Hunsinger said. The Moderate Party's chairman, Ken Block, for instance, has been told by his accountants that he could cut his expenses 20 percent by moving his business a few miles over the border into Massachusetts, Hunsinger said.

Neither Chafee nor Hunsinger said they viewed the lack of a major party's backing as a significant handicap in the campaign.

The high proportion of unaffiliated voters in the state benefits third parties, Hunsinger said, and the Moderate Party's statewide organization is already comparable to Republicans', she added.

"We're probably going to have the best field organization" by election day, Hunsinger said.
Chafee said his decision to run without a party will benefit him in the campaign.
"Running as a Republican statewide … you're pretty much on your own,"  he said. "So I'm used to building my own organization."

"I think being an independent will open constituencies to me," Chafee said, "particularly labor" and "environmental groups."

In an e-mail to The Herald, Caprio Committee Spokesperson Margie O'Brien wrote that the general treasurer's "experience and success in fundraising give him an edge and position him well for the 2010 election."

The Lynch and Smith campaigns did not reply to requests for comment.
Two high-profile local politicians who had been considered contenders — former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, a Republican who in 2006 came close to securing his party's nomination to the U.S. Senate, and David Cicilline '83, the Democratic mayor of Providence — have both publicly announced they will not run.

And former United States Attorney Robert Corrente last week announced he would not run as the Moderate Party's candidate, despite the party's public courtship. He said he intends to return to private practice.


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