Left-wing Democrats in Rhode Island have been hostile to Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo ever since she cut public employee pensions and instituted Medicaid reforms in an effort to stabilize the state’s crumbling finances after taking office in 2015.
But Raimondo – a former venture capitalist – overcame that hostility to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary Wednesday for a second term. She defeated former Secretary of State Matt Brown, who positioned himself to her left.
“Rhode Island needs a governor that represents real Democratic values,” read the script of one Brown ad. “We don’t need people elected to office that are Republicans in disguise.”
The ad was made by the same agency that produced commercials for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, the democratic socialist who electrified progressives in the June 26 New York Democratic primary by knocking off the fourth-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.
Brown was also the beneficiary of support from Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, two political action committees started by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who calls himself a democratic socialist. Both groups ran ads praising Brown for backing single-payer health care, building public housing and raising the minimum wage.
But Raimondo – one of only two female Democratic governors – wasn’t about to be caught napping. She called Brown's plans "an economic disaster" and touted Rhode Island’s economic comeback, a plethora of new constructions projects and lower unemployment. She also raised some $7.7 million for her campaign – more than 20 times what Brown was able to raise.
In the end, Democratic voters were more impressed with Raimondo’s record than Brown’s promises. Raimondo swept almost every city in the state and beat Brown by 56 percent to 34 percent.
Having dispatched a left-wing challenger, Raimondo isn’t out of the woods yet. She now faces Republican nominee Allen Fung, the son of Chinese immigrants and the mayor of the city of Cranston. In 2014, Fung narrowly lost the governor’s race to Raimondo by 41 percent to 37 percent. Independent candidates took the remainder of the vote.
On Wednesday Fung defeated GOP state legislator Patricia Morgan in the primary by calling for cutting the state’s sales tax from 7 percent to 5 percent and ending the state’s policy of tolerating “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants.
Once again, the race may turn on independent voters. Polls show Fung and Raimondo in a close competition, with the result possibly determined by how many votes are won by independent candidate Joe Trillo, the manager of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in Rhode Island.
The other races in Rhode Island this November are anticlimactic in state where Democrats hold almost every office.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will face former Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders this fall, but few expect the Republican to mount much of a campaign.
Further down the ballot, Republicans have failed to put up any candidate in over half of the seats in the state Legislature. They’re pinning all their hopes on Fung winning the governor’s mansion.