Updated Nov. 5 at 2:45 a.m.
In a tight race, Democrat Gina Raimondo beat out Republican Allan Fung and Moderate Robert Healey in Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race, making her the state’s first woman elected governor and the first Democrat elected to the seat since 1992.
Raimondo, the state’s general treasurer, squeaked by Cranston Mayor Fung with a narrow margin, capturing 40 percent of the vote to his 36 percent. Healey came in third with 22 percent of the vote, winning more votes than was predicted by previous polls. Raimondo will replace outgoing Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17, who chose not to seek reelection to a second term.
Throughout her campaign, Raimondo emphasized her experience as Rhode Island general treasurer, painting herself as the candidate poised to bring jobs to the state and fix its ailing finances. To create more jobs, she proposed an “Innovation Institute” that would partner universities with private businesses to incubate and fund novel business ideas, especially in medical, environmental and marine technology fields, according to an informational video released by her campaign. She said she would also raise the state’s minimum wage, work to improve the climate for small businesses and create a “Green Bank” to offer loans for environmental projects.
Alice Bossaltman, a Rhode Island resident who voted at the Boys and Girls Club on Wickenden Street, said she was voting for Raimondo because “she has the experience to have a more global outlook on re-energizing Providence.” She added, “I think we can bring in businesses if regulations begin to change.”
Raimondo also said she plans to expand scholarships for college students and start a loan forgiveness program in the state, The Herald previously reported.
For his part, Fung leaned on his experience as mayor of Cranston, highlighting his successful overhaul of the city’s pension system and his positive approval rating. Fung’s platform sought to make the state more amenable to small businesses by instating state regulation reform. Fung also stirred controversy by saying he supports right-to-work laws, which inhibit a union’s ability to require workers to join unions and pay dues. Jerry Missel, voting delegate for the Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee, told The Herald he admires Fung’s “executive competence and accomplishment,” adding that “he’s not a polarizing person, he’s very tolerant and very accepting, and he has a great temperament.”
Born in Smithfield, R.I., Raimondo attended Harvard as an undergraduate, Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School before co-founding Rhode Island’s first venture capital firm, Point Judith, in 2000. In 2010, Raimondo beat out Republican candidate Kernan King for the state’s general treasurer position.
As treasurer, she spearheaded a major pension overhaul in 2011 to reduce the state’s unfunded pension liability, a controversial move that gained national attention. At the time she was lauded by national media outlets and organizations for making the state’s pension system more sustainable. But the reform also sparked the ire of state union members whose benefits were reduced and who argued that Raimondo did not negotiate the changes with them. Continued tense relations with unions, including the Rhode Island AFL-CIO’s refusal to endorse her, threatened to impede Raimondo’s bid for governor, in a race in which Democrats usually carry most of the union support.
“She made some tough choices when she was treasurer, but I understand why she made them,” said Amy Glidden, a Rhode Island resident voting at the Boys and Girls Club on Wickenden Street. Glidden added that “she’s someone that a progressive can get behind.”
President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all made appearances in Rhode Island in October to endorse Raimondo, who also received support from former president Bill Clinton and the entire Rhode Island congressional delegation. Raimondo also received endorsements from more than 10 unions, mostly from those not involved in her statewide pension cuts.
During her campaign, Raimondo, a Roman Catholic, caused a stir among the state’s conservative Catholics for accepting an endorsement from Planned Parenthood and supporting women’s reproductive rights, including abortion. At the time, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence criticized Raimondo, arguing that she was making a political move and ignoring her religion’s stance on abortion, the Providence Journal reported.
Raimondo’s victory was met with both jubilation and disappointment throughout the divided state.
The mood was elated and triumphant at the Democratic watch party at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, where candidates celebrated wins in all the statewide races and the Providence mayoral race.
Raimondo’s acceptance speech, punctuated by loud chants of “Go Gina, Go!” from the cheering crowd, focused on her path to the win and her plans to increase the number of jobs in the state.
“Rhode Island said it’s time for new people, a new direction, a culture that includes everyone and not a culture that favors insiders,” she said. “So I accept, I am filled with humility and I am ready to work. I will work for the people of Rhode Island to rebuild Rhode Island and get all of you back to work,” she added.
At the Brown Democrats’ watch party on campus, attended by about 50 people throughout the night, “the whole room … just burst into cheers when the results were called,” said Meghan Holloway ’16, president of the Brown Democrats. “We were biting our nails nervously. … We worked so hard, we just couldn’t imagine her losing.”
“Having a woman who comes from an economic-oriented background will really help to put a focus on not only creating jobs and strengthening the state’s economy, but also doing so” with an approach that helps women and is “equitable and accountable to people of all genders,” said Isabella Levy ’16, Brown Democrats political director.
Fung teared up as he addressed the crowd at the R.I. Republican watch party at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. “It’s a tough one,” he said of the race, keeping his remarks brief as emotion colored his voice. “I will be back,” he added, thanking his family, wife and supporters to a chorus of cheers.
“It’s definitely disappointing, because it was a really close race, but I think Mayor Fung did a really good job up there,” said Allie Schaefer ’17, vice president of the Brown Republicans, who also attended the watch party. “Like he said, he’s going to be back, so we’re really hoping that he’s going to run again in the next four years.” Schaefer said.
A Taubman Center poll released Oct. 28 showed Raimondo and Fung neck-and-neck with 39.6 percent and 39 percent of the vote, respectively. These poll results came on the tail of another Taubman Center poll released Oct. 23, which showed Raimondo with a significant lead — 41.6 percent of the vote to Fung’s 30.5 percent.
Candidates in both the gubernatorial primary and general elections have spent a total of $15 million in the entire campaign, making this the most expensive race in the history of Rhode Island. Fung outspent Raimondo leading up to the election, WPRO reported. In the week before the election, Fung had about $272,300 on hand, significantly more than Raimondo, who had about $32,500. Fung had previously spent about $780,400 during the month of October, while Raimondo spent about $770,700, WPRO reported.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Democrat candidate and Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee beat out Republican Catherine Taylor, former director of the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, by over 20 percentage points. The two candidates had similar visions for the position, which has no official constitutional powers beyond taking the role of governor if the sitting governor is unable to perform his or her duties. Outgoing term-limited Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts ’78 made health care her priority during her tenure. Both candidates said they would keep Healthsource R.I., the state’s healthcare exchange, under state control instead of outsourcing it to the federal government.
In an unsual turn, Republican Taylor captured endorsements from teachers unions, which shunned the Democrat due to his pro-charter school views. The R.I. AFL-CIO backed Taylor, the first time it has backed a Republican candidate since 1986, WPRI reported. She has support from organized labor and said she disagrees with Fung’s right-to-work stance.
- With additional reporting by Andrew Flax, Duncan Gallagher, Lindsay Gantz and Molly Schulson
A previous version of this article misquoted Meghan Holloway ’16. She said, “The whole room … just burst into cheers when the results were called” for Gina Raimondo, not “burst into tears.” The Herald regrets the error.
Updated Nov. 5 at 2:45 a.m.