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Tight races, new faces - R.I. voters hit the polls

Amid a national mood of voter frustration predicted to swing today's midterm elections in Republicans' favor, Rhode Island voters will cast ballots for key federal and state offices. As Democrats brace for heavy Election Day losses nationwide, the question of whether voters dissatisfied with the party in power in Washington will impact the outcome of races in the historically blue Ocean State looms large over the Nov. 2 vote.  

Roiled by a still-sluggish economy and frustrated with a federal government that seems out of touch, voters are expected to hand Republicans control of the House of Representatives and leave Democrats struggling to cling to a majority in the Senate. A Gallup poll taken on the eve of the election shows Republicans with a 15-point advantage over their Democratic rivals, an "unprecedented" lead, according to the polling firm.

In Rhode Island, narrowing polling gaps between Democrats and Republicans, particularly in the First Congressional District, have been attributed to the national political climate. While Democrats are heavily favored to win in many state races, turnout remains crucial in an election cycle where an "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans could affect margins of victory.


Mayor of Providence

Angel Taveras garnered nearly 50 percent of the vote in a tough four-way Democratic primary to emerge as the clear frontrunner against independent Jonathan Scott in the Providence mayoral race.

Taveras, a lawyer and former Providence Housing Court judge, would be the first Latino mayor of Providence if elected. On the campaign trail, Taveras has stressed his "Head Start to Harvard" life story, which took the son of a single mother from Providence's Classical High School to the Ivy League.

Scott is the president of a political consulting and public relations firm and a former Republican candidate for Congress. He described himself as a "fiscal conservative, social moderate with a strong libertarian streak" in an interview with The Herald.

Both candidates agree on the need to reduce the city's debt burden and to formulate a sustainable plan for financing its massive unfunded pension liability. They also have both proposed plans to jumpstart Providence's economy. Taveras advocates creating a small loan revolving fund to provide small businesses access to capital as well as streamlining the regulatory process to make the city a more appealing place to do business. Scott supports investing in a transportation system to bring economic development to the city's neighborhoods.


Second Congressional District

Five-term incumbent Jim Langevin, D-RI, is up for re-election against North Kingston businessman and former town councilman Mark Zaccaria in the second Congressional district. Zaccaria also challenged Langevin in 2008, when the sitting congressman handily defeated the Republican with a resounding 70 percent of the vote.

This election cycle, Langevin has benefited from a nearly 10-to-one fundraising advantage. Polling shows Langevin with a commanding lead over Zaccaria — 55 to 32 percent.

Langevin has been forced to defend his votes for the $787 billion stimulus and health care reform, both of which Zaccaria says he would have opposed. Langevin, a pro-life Democrat, riled R.I. progressives by voting for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, a proposed amendment to health care legislation that banned the use of federal money to fund abortions. Zaccaria supports repealing the health care law and favors financing health care through lifetime health savings accounts, which would be funded through contributions by individuals and their employers.

Langevin, who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accidental shooting, has been a vocal advocate for people with disabilities and for stem cell research. The Warwick native was a leading advocate for amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that reaffirmed the protections for people with disabilities included in the original act.


State Senate D-3

Twenty-year state Senate veteran Rhoda Perry P '91, D-Providence, will face Republican Morris Markovitz and independent Miriam Ross in the District 3 contest. Perry is favored to maintain control of the seat.

Perry, whose signature legislative issues are health care and civil liberties, has spearheaded legislation combating human trafficking, ensuring women have access to contraceptives under health insurance plans and expanding the rights of gays and lesbians. She currently serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services and as a member of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

Markovitz, a commodity trader and analyst who worked on NASA's Apollo Project, has been endorsed by Rhode Island Clean Slate, a Republican-sponsored initiative aimed at ending "one-party" rule in the state and supporting candidates committed to a platform of job creation, education and lower taxes.

Ross, a corporate attorney and adjunct professor at Roger Williams School of Law, advocates measures to reduce the regulatory and tax burdens for small businesses.


State House of Representatives, D-2

Democrat Chris Blazejewski and independent Richard Rodi will square off to replace Rep. David Segal, D-Providence, who is barred from running for re-election after an unsuccessful campaign for the First Congressional District House seat.

Blazejewski, a community activist and Harvard Law School graduate, promises to continue to support Segal's progressive agenda. According to Blazejewski's website, he advocates "the creation a modern public transit system connecting Providence and East Providence with the rest of Rhode Island" and advocates tax reform to change how the state funds its public education system.

Rodi, who lost to Segal in the 2008 Democratic primary and is now running without a party affiliation, is active in numerous Providence-based commumity organizations. His campaign focuses on fiscal responsibility to curb the state's budget deficit and tax code reform to make Rhode Island more business-friendly. Rodi has also been endorsed by Clean Slate.


State Congressional District, D-3

Nine-term incumbent Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, faces repeat challenger Republican Daniel Harrop ‘76 MD'79, a Providence psychiatrist and former clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, in the race for the District 3 state House seat.

Ajello, the Deputy Majority Leader of the House, defeated Harrop by a large margin in 2002 and 2004. But Harrop's third bid comes amidst a favorable climate for Republicans nationwide and with the support of the Clean Slate initiative, which aims to end decades of Democratic dominance in the General Assembly.

As a state legislator, Ajello led efforts to pass an education funding formula for the state. Rhode Island was previously the only state in the nation without such a formula. Ajello was instrumental in adding a provision to the formula to raise the total amount the state spends on education. The veteran state representative has also been a key supporter of legislation to grant sexual assault victims extra protection against their attackers and to provide women greater access to contraceptive drugs.

Harrop is the chair of the financing committee for the Republican party in Rhode Island. He also ran against Mayor David Cicilline '83 as the Republican candidate for mayor in 2006.


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