Engage Rhode Island played a pivotal role in getting last November’s pension overhaul across the finish line, but it’s not clear whether the deep-pocketed advocacy group will put the same muscle behind the municipal-relief legislation Governor Chafee proposed last week.
“We appreciate Governor Chafee’s initiative on municipal pension reform,” Jon Duffy, a spokesman for EngageRI, told WPRI.com in a statement. “His experience as mayor of Warwick gives him a particularly deep understanding of the challenges faced by our cities and towns.”
However, Duffy stopped short of endorsing the far-reaching package the governor put forward on Thursday. EngageRI’s board members “look forward to reading his proposals and working with his administration to ensure that any pension reform measures proposed are comprehensive,” he said.
The Democratic Party’s edge among Rhode Island voters has plunged over the past two years, a WPRI.com analysis of Gallup polling data shows.
The Democratic advantage over the Republican Party in Rhode Island slid from 37 percentage points in 2008 to 16 points this year, according to Gallup. The Ocean State has gone from being the most Democratic state in the country in 2008 to the 7th-most Democratic now.
Gallup calculates a state’s partisan preference based on the difference between the percentage of state residents who identify as or lean Democratic and the percentage who identify as or lean Republican. The 12.2-point drop for Democrats in Rhode Island from 2008 to 2010 was the most in the nation, the polling firm said.
“There is a very distinct – and surprising – trend line in these numbers,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report in Washington and a native Rhode Islander. “While Rhode Island certainly remains one of the most Democratic states in the country, there is a clear erosion in support for Democrats.”
A decline in the Democratic Party’s fortunes locally hasn’t necessarily translated into a surge of support for the GOP, however. A whopping 60% of Rhode Islanders identified as independents in Gallup’s polling during the first half of this year, the most in any state. That’s up from 53% in 2008.
“Many states with high proportions of independents are dominated by one party electorally,” Gallup said – meaning many of Rhode Island’s self-identified independents are still likely to vote for a Democrat when they go to the polls.
It’s unclear why there’s been such a marked decline in how many Rhode Islanders side with the Democrats. For one thing, 2008 was a banner year for Democrats, which may have inflated the party’s numbers locally. The unemployment rate has been above 10% in Rhode Island every month since March 2009, as well.
“It could be because voters are simply frustrated with a lack of jobs and the struggling economy, but President Obama may be part of the problem here as well,” Duffy said. Obama’s approval rating was down to 44% in a March poll by Brown University.
“No scandal-free Democratic president should have an approval rating under 50% in the 7th-most Democratic state in the nation,” Duffy said.
Rhode Island isn’t the only blue state where Democrats lost ground. The party’s advantage in Massachusetts fell from 34 points in 2008 to 20 points this year, and its advantage in Hawaii declined from 34 points to 24.
• Related: Is Rhode Island really a blue state? Weighing the evidence (July 14)
Count Jennifer Duffy and Joe Fleming among those impressed by Brendan Doherty’s first fundraising report.
“For a first-time candidate who only started raising money in early April, he did a tremendous job,” Cook Political Report’s Duffy told me, pointing out that Doherty’s $300,000 haul is almost 40% of the total money John Loughlin had during the last cycle.
“He’s got to keep it up – there’s no resting on your laurels here – but he proved himself to be a contender,” she said. ”What this will do now is open doors elsewhere.”
David Cicilline’s $360,000 total was “a good number,” and the incumbent Democrat is unlikely to ever lack for funds partly because of the support he receives from the gay community, Duffy said. “But he has a serious, financially viable challenger,” she said.
As for Loughlin, Duffy said his $3,000 total raises further questions about how much his campaign will be hampered by his absence from the country while serving in Iraq. Doherty may also pick up key endorsements in the coming months that could help help him win the Republican nomination, she said.
WPRI 12 political analyst Fleming echoed Duffy, calling the second quarter “an excellent start for Brendan Doherty” that will increase the pressure on Cicilline and Loughlin. “It sends a message,” he said.
“The question is going to be what Brendan Doherty does in the next quarter,” he said. “Can he keep the momentum up? He’s raised a lot, but can he keep that going as time goes on? That’s going to be one of the keys.”
On the Democratic side, Fleming described the quarter as “a good start” for Cicilline. “I think he’ll have the money, there’s no question,” he said. A big question there is whether other Democrats will jump into the race – they could wait as long as the end of the year and still be viable, he said.
Overall, the second quarter money chase “shows that CD1 is going to be a very expensive campaign in 2012,” Fleming said. “I think it’s going to be over $1 million for each person.”
The Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy is a favorite source of political insight here on Nesi’s Notes, not only because of her expertise and wit but also because she’s a native Rhode Islander.
So it was unsurprising – but still exciting – to find her among the 13 experts included in a new Business Insider list of “the savviest political analysts in the country right now.”
Duffy’s “analyses of statewide and congressional races [are] considered essential reading in the political community,” BI declares. No disagreement here.
Others on the list include her boss Charlie Cook, Peggy Noonan (the only other woman on it), Ron Brownstein and New York magazine’s John Heilemann. Congrats to Jen.
Former State Police Col. Brendan Doherty will hold a news conference later this week to announce his future plans, as speculation swirls about whether he’ll challenge Congressman Cicilline or Senator Whitehouse next year.
Doherty, who retired from the state police’s top job on March 31, will make an announcement “with regards to his future plans” on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., spokesman Dante Bellini said in an e-mail.
The press conference will take place at Imperial Packaging Corp., a manufacturer on Campbell Street in Pawtucket – a location that happens to be in the heart of Cicilline’s 1st Congressional District. Imperial moved from Woonsocket to Pawtucket recently.
Doherty’s future has been a hot topic among political observers since his surprise announcement March 3 that he was planning to resign from the state police. “There have been rumors that I will have a future in other capacities,” he told my colleague Tim White that day. “I do have a future plan to stay engaged in public service.”
If Doherty decides to throw his hat into the ring, I continue to think it’s more likely he’ll do so against Cicilline rather than Whitehouse. A Senate race will cost millions of dollars more than a House campaign, and Whitehouse’s fundraising is off to a strong start. Cicilline, on the other hand, looks vulnerable thanks to Providence’s financial crisis and his dismal 17% approval rating.
Coincidentally, Doherty’s successor as state police superintendent, Steven O’Donnell, was sworn in on Monday morning by Governor Chafee in a private ceremony in the governor’s office. A public swearing-in is scheduled for Saturday on the South Portico of the State House.
Update: I asked Cook Political Report senior editor Jennifer Duffy – who’s also a Rhode Island native – for her thoughts. In an e-mail, she agreed that Cicilline would be “a good target” for Doherty:
There is no doubt that Cicilline is as vulnerable as an unindicted congressional incumbent ever gets. Doherty has a strong résumé and a good story to tell. As a first-time candidate, he has a lot to prove in terms of fundraising and putting together the kind of campaign capable of taking out a Democratic incumbent in Rhode Island in a presidential year, but the potential is there for this to become a race.
Update #2: I love my readers: commenter “ABC” points out that the URL BrendanDohertyforCongress.com was registered
just last Friday by Jeffrey Angus of Executive Technology Partners, an IT firm in Doherty’s hometown of Cumberland.
I did some checking of my own and found Angus registered at least more three more URLs: DohertyforCongress.com, DohertyforSenate.com and BrendanDohertyforSenate.com. But only the two “for Congress” sites are live – both say “Coming Soon” at the moment.
It’s only a hint, but that could be a signal Doherty is planning to announce a bid against Cicilline, rather than Whitehouse, on Thursday.
Update #3: Your humble blogger’s poor eyesight strikes again. Those four URLs were registered on March 6, not May 6 – notably, while Doherty will still leading the state police.
Also of note: the two “for Congress” URL registrations were both changed on Monday, while the Senate ones haven’t been touched since March 6. That’s another sign Doherty has likely decided on a House run.
Update #4: It’s official – Doherty will run in the 1st Congressional District, spokesman Dante Bellini tells me.
Whitehouse’s war chest grew by $147,327 between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, according to a new Federal Election Commission filing obtained by WPRI.com.
Cook Political Report senior editor Jennifer Duffy – who’s also a Rhode Island native – told me Whitehouse is in decent shape gearing up for his first campaign as an incumbent senator.
“He’s doing pretty well,” Duffy said. “This is a pretty strong starting number. … The ball has started rolling, and this is a healthy start.” Rhode Island’s small size also makes it a relatively low-cost state in which to run.
The numbers do not include the donations Whitehouse received at a major fundraiser he held Sunday night at the Providence Biltmore, which was headlined by his colleague Jack Reed and attracted a who’s who of local politicians.
The big question now is which Republican will step forward to challenge Whitehouse next year. All eyes are on recently departed Gov. Donald Carcieri, who’s weighing whether to jump into the race. A decision by Carcieri – and then if he opts out, the eventual Republican nominee – is likely to come by the spring.
Since Whitehouse took office in January 2007, he has raised $1.71 million and spent slightly more than that – $1.78 million. But much of that money went toward paying off leftover expenses from his original Senate campaign.
Whitehouse’s donations mainly have come from political action committees and individuals writing big checks; he’s only raised $26,522 from those who gave small amounts of $200 or less, Duffy said.
Asked how much Whitehouse and his opponent are likely to spend next year, Duffy said: “Let’s see who runs.”
Jack Reed, who is not up for reelection until 2014, continues to maintain a huge war chest – it totaled $2.4 million as of Dec. 31. “That’s what I call intimidating,” Duffy said. Reed’s financial advantage and popularity here in Rhode Island make him about as safe as a politician can be.
The state’s two congressmen closed out 2010 with amounts that Duffy said “make sense” considering the pair just finished a campaign. Congressman Jim Langevin had $177,927 and David Cicilline had $37,562.
In fact, both of Rhode Island’s House members had more money than their colleagues who represent Bristol County, Mass.: Congressman Jim McGovern had $26,137 and Barney Frank had just $21,038 after a hard-fought race. The state’s junior senator, Scott Brown, had an astonishing $7.2 million in his campaign account at the end of 2010.
The Washington Post has a good overview of how much money the 33 senators up next year have on hand if you’d like to read more.
Three-way political races, that is.
Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy – a Rhode Island native who’s now a wizened Washingtonian – has a short piece about three contests this fall that each have a trio of viable candidates: the gubernatorial races in Rhode Island and Maine, and the U.S. Senate race in Alaska. Here’s her take on the local battle:
Rhode Island may be a Democratic stronghold, but the state has had a Republican governor for 22 of the last 26 years. It is a safe bet that the Ocean State will not have a Republican governor in January. There is a Republican in this open-seat race, John Robitaille, but he is destined to finish third. This contest is really between Democratic state Treas. Frank Caprio and former Republican Senator-turned-independent Lincoln Chafee.
Caprio is a more moderate Democrat than many voters are used to while Chafee has embraced his political independence. Chafee wants to impose a 1% tax on items currently exempt from the state’s sales tax. Caprio has focused on pension reform. Local labor unions, which almost always support Democratic candidates, are split. The AFL-CIO is neutral, while Caprio has endorsements from “old line” unions like the Laborers, the Teamsters and the IBEW. Chafee has the backing of service-oriented groups like SEIU, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and the United Nurses and Allied Professions union. This split accurately reflects where voters are since polling indicates a statistically tied race.