Rhode Island voters cast their ballots yesterday in the state primaries to determine the nominees for the Nov. 6 general elections. Given the state's leftward leaning, most of the hotly-contested races were between Democrats vying for their party's nomination. In some cases, Democrats selected in yesterday's election will run unopposed in November.
U.S. House of Representatives
Incumbent Rep. David Cicilline '83, D-R.I., won the Democratic nomination for Rhode Island's first congressional district with 62.2 percent of the vote in yesterday's primary, with 398 of 400 precincts reporting at press time. His challengers, businessman Anthony Gemma and serial candidate for local office Christopher Young, received 30.2 and 7.6 percent of the vote, respectively.
Cicilline's victory ends a heated campaign during which he faced accusations of voter fraud and attacks on his record during his two terms as Providence mayor from 2002 to 2010.
"The fact that he was able to defeat Anthony Gemma decisively ... means that while he still has a difficult task ahead of him, his job is a little easier today than it was yesterday," said Tony Affigne, professor of political science at Providence College and visiting professor of ethnic studies at Brown.
When Cicilline received a 14.8 percent approval rating in a poll conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy in February, many questioned whether he would be able to win the primary. A May poll from WPRI put Gemma, Cicilline's primary challenger, less than five percentage points behind him. As recently as August, Cicilline led Gemma by 12.3 percent, WPRI reported, with a 5.7 percent margin of error.
"Gemma did not run an effective campaign," said Maureen Moakley, professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. "He was relying on accusations of voter fraud." Cicilline has denied all accusations, and no evidence was ever released to the public.
In his acceptance speech last night, Cicilline focused on his general election opponent Brendan Doherty, the Republican former superintendent of the Rhode Island state police. "Doherty will move this country backwards," he said at Blaze Restaurant on Providence's East Side.
Cicilline criticized Doherty's support for the Republican Party's position on issues like tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate campaign contributions.
"(Doherty) says Paul Ryan has some great ideas. I don't know what those ideas are, but I know Paul Ryan's values are not Rhode Island values," Cicilline said in his speech.
At a rally last night, Doherty criticized Cicilline's campaign for focusing on other politicians. "You're not running against them - you're running against me," he said. The Doherty campaign could not be reached for comment.
Cicilline's strategy of painting Doherty as a member of the Republican establishment "is pretty smart," said Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science. In response to this campaign strategy, "Doherty has to define himself in a way that will tell voters ... these are my policy positions, this is what I would fight for," she added.
"My advice to Doherty would be to stick to the issues and not risk his whole election on a line of attack which was not successful for Gemma," Affigne said. "Voters in the first district are more concerned about Social Security, war in Afghanistan, student loans, student debt and home foreclosures ... than they are about unproven ethics accusations."
But Affigne noted that Cicilline's positions on many issues are more in line with those held by voters in the first district than Doherty's.
Doherty may benefit from attacking Cicilline's record as mayor, Moakley said. "He's going to have to campaign aggressively, try to continue to underscore Cicilline's past performance and hope that he can in some ways connect with the general Republican message."
In an interview with WPRI last night, Gemma said he expects 52 percent of his supporters to vote for Doherty in the general election instead of Cicilline and that he "cannot, in good conscience" support Cicilline in the general election. Gemma added that he will continue to pursue his voter fraud investigation.
R.I. Senate, District 3
In Rhode Island's third district, which includes the University, women's policy advocate Gayle Goldin defeated education reformer Maryellen Butke in yesterday's Democratic primary. Goldin, who will run unopposed, is the presumptive replacement for Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Providence, the more than two-decades long State House veteran who has championed progressive causes. Goldin, a former leader in the Women's Fund of Rhode Island and advocate for health care reform, won 57.3 percent of the ballots cast compared to 42.7 percent for Butke, former executive director of the education reform nonprofit Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now. Seventy-seven of 78 precincts were reporting at press time.
Goldin was the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate, and she also received support from Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union in the country.
Goldin focused her campaign on her support for increasing state funding to Rhode Island public schools, pro
moting marriage equality and protecting abortion rights.
Since the candidates agreed on most major issues, subtle differences in their preferred education policies took center stage. Goldin has expressed reluctance to expand support for charter schools and use students' testing data to evaluate teachers - policies for which Butke advocated through the nonprofit she directed.
Perry announced that she was retiring in August and immediately endorsed Goldin as her successor. Over Perry's 22 years in the state Senate, she developed a reputation as a strong liberal voice, serving as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services and as a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Both Goldin and Butke were unavailable for comment.
R.I. House of Representatives, District 8
Libby Kimzey, former member of the class of 2009, was unsuccessful in her bid to represent Rhode Island's eighth district in the House of Representatives. John Lombardi, former city councilman and one-time acting mayor of Providence, defeated both Kimzey and freshman incumbent state Rep. Michael Tarro, D-Federal Hill, Olneyville and Valley, with 52.4 percent of the vote.
Kimzey, who was endorsed by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, received 35.4 percent of the vote, while Tarro received 12.2 percent of the vote, with 77 of 78 precincts reporting at press time.
R.I. House of Representatives, District 1
Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, who has represented the district that includes Brown in the General Assembly since 1993, picked up the Democratic nomination without opposition. She will run against Independent Francisco Gonzalez, advocate for the homeless, in the general election Nov. 6.
- With contributing reporting from Amy Rasmussen, Morgan Johnson and Sona Mkrttchian.