Former Senator Lincoln Chafee '75 has emerged as the leader in the race for Rhode Island governor, according to a Rasmussen poll conducted Feb. 25.
The Rasmussen poll comes on the heels of a Brown survey and a poll from the television station WPRI-12 conducted by Fleming and Associates, both of which also showed Chafee with an early lead before November's election.
"Obviously, we're very encouraged by the poll," said John Pagliarini, Chafee's campaign manager.
The Rasmussen poll, which surveyed 500 likely voters, found Chafee — a former senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies — favored in hypothetical matchups against Republican challenger John Robitaille, as well as against Democratic primary contenders State Treasurer Frank Caprio and State Attorney General Patrick Lynch '87.
But in a matchup against Chafee and Robitaille, Caprio was the Democrat who earned the highest percentage of the vote, 27 percent compared to Lynch's 24 percent. The third place finisher against Chafee and either Democrat was Robitaille, who fared slightly better with Lynch in the race.
Chafee also garnered the highest favorability rating, with 55 percent of likely voters holding a very favorable or somewhat favorable view of the former senator. Caprio came in second, with 52 percent indicating a positive view.
The Rasmussen poll also highlighted economic uncertainty, with a plurality of 42 percent of voters characterizing the state of their personal finances as "fair" and 45 percent believing that their financial situation is getting worse.
The challenge of dealing with economic woes in a debt-ridden state is not lost on the candidates for governor.
Chafee has advocated for a plan to take advantage of key investments in Rhode Island, including Providence's "Knowledge District," transportation infrastructure improvements around the deep water port at Quonset, RI and the Warwick Intermodal Station, which would provide a transportation hub connecting T.F. Green Airport to the rest of the state, in order "to create good, paying jobs," Pagliarini said.
Both Caprio and Robataille tout small businesses as the focus of their economic plans.
Caprio believes "if every small business could add one job, we'd go from highest unemployment rates to one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country," said his spokesperson, Nick Hemond, said.
Lynch is expected to unveil his economic plan in stages beginning later this week, according to his campaign manager Joel Coon.
The focus on the economy may be a boon to Democratic primary contender Caprio, who could cite his familiarity with budget matters and pension reform, Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, said.
Schiller attributed Chafee's strong showing in the poll to a popular family name and his lack of association with the current unpopular state government. Chafee, who lost his reelection bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006 when he ran as a Republican, could benefit from his status as an independent, which allows him to "depict himself as a different kind of politician" unencumbered by party affiliation, Schiller said.
A Chafee victory in November is by no means a foregone conclusion though, Schiller cautioned.
For Republican challenger John Robitaille, who has been campaigning for four weeks, the race is still in its early stages. Robataille, who had the highest percentage of voters choose "not sure" as their opinion of him, said he hopes to convert the undecided with a focus on Republican values of smaller government and self-reliance.
"What I always tell people is this isn't a sprint — it's a marathon," Robitaille said.