RI Senate primaries
Progressives won a number of high-profile victories in 2016 primaries for the General Assembly, but they do not yet constitute a majority of either house. A good measure of their strength is support for the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), a bill that would repeal abortion restrictions currently held to be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade and create specific statutory protections to mirror Roe. At one point early last year, it had as many as 36 supporters in the 75-member State House — a majority of the Democratic caucus, and nearly a majority of legislators. (As the Providence Journal reported, 7 of them withdrew support under pressure from the Catholic Church, which claimed the bill would create protections that do not exist under Roe.)
Recent polls have shown that about half of Rhode Islanders, if not more, oppose overturning Roe, compared to less than 40% who support overturning it. Among Democrats, the most recent poll to ask this question found very lopsided support for Roe.
The retirement of Anthony Kennedy will only make this issue more potent. House Speaker Nick Mattiello’s typical refrain when asked why he will not bring the RHCA to the floor is that it doesn’t matter, because Roe v. Wade won’t be overturned. For example, he said this in May:
“So I don’t think [the RHCA] is a real concern…And we’ve got significant budget challenges, we’ve got the PawSox we’re working on, we’ve got important bills that are of concern to a lot of people. I choose to concentrate on everything and not to utilize every drop or ounce of oxygen on one particular issue [abortion] which is not of consequence either way. For everybody that wants that there’s almost someone who doesn’t what that, so it’s just divisive. For no, for no, for no real, no real benefit either way. Roe v. Wade is NOT going to be overturned. I think that’s a concern that’s not rooted in reality.”
This was never a very good argument, but it’s even weaker now. Mattiello is unlikely to change his position, because the real reason he won’t bring the RHCA to the floor is that he opposes the substance of it. There are a number of other Democrats who oppose the RHCA but would very much like to pretend that they don’t, because they know that voting against the RHCA would hurt them politically. This makes it harder for them to maintain that stance without straining credibility.
I’m not the only one who thinks this is is a game-changing development. One previously neutral incumbent facing a primary challenge, Sen. Stephen Archambault, came out in favor of the RHCA in late July. Here was the first sentence of his opinion piece:
“President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy dramatically increases the likelihood that the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade establishing a woman’s right to choose will be either overturned or severely curtailed.”
This is not the only way to measure progressive strength in the Assembly. Some Democrats endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life (RI RtL) voted for the paid sick leave measure enacted last year, and others are also endorsed by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV). But I use support for the RHCA as my primary measure because it is the most common measure used by the progressive base here in Rhode Island.
Below, I give detailed explanations of contested races and briefly profile unopposed incumbents. (Due to the large number of Democratic incumbents, party is only specifically noted for non-Democratic candidates.) I use Pro and Anti in my ratings to refer to the candidate’s stance on abortion as I have assessed it. Don’t put too much stock into the ratings, and especially don’t read too much into candidate financials. Rhode Island is a small enough state that state Senate campaigns—and especially state House campaigns — can be won even in the face of a large spending deficit.
Margins for the 2012 and 2016 presidential general elections are from Daily Kos Elections. All other margins were calculated by me. I have calculated PVI-like “ratings” for each district, which measure partisan lean relative to the state, using several different approaches. Rhode Island as a whole is “EVEN” under this measure; keep in mind that the state actually has a significant Democratic lean! Every Republican-held district in the Senate is at least R+6, going by the state-level median; three of those five districts are R+19 or greater. Including federal elections pushes four of the five seats to R+15 or greater. Similarly, there are two Republican-held R+7 House districts (again using the state-level median), and the other nine are at least R+13. A district rated R+10 might be winnable for Democrats even in an average year — to take one example, Jim Seveney, a pro-choice Democrat, defeated a Republican incumbent in an R+9 seat in 2016.
I have donated to a number of candidates for office. You can see the list here.
I have a few maps in this article. I’m still working on compiling them so that the formatting is neater, but here’s a legend and a super-map:
SD 1 (Providence). Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who has often been totally unopposed in the Democratic primary, faces a rare challenge from Michael Guzman. Goodwin is silent on the issue of abortion, and she is supported by RI RtL. But she has worked with progressives on other issues — in particular, her sponsorship was critical to passing a law mandating paid sick leave last year. (The principal sponsor of the House legislation was Aaron Regunberg, and the two worked together to pass it.) On his website, Guzman lists various progressive causes he supports, such as Medicare for All, but there is no mention of the RHCA or abortion rights.
This district includes portions of State House districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8. 7 and 8 have pro-life representatives, while the other four do not. HD 3 is entirely within SD 1, and it was one of the districts where incumbent pro-life representatives lost their primaries in 2016. Former House Majority Leader John DeSimone, of HD 5, suffered the same fate. Goodwin could probably be seriously threatened by the right opponent.
Guzman does not seem to be that opponent. He does not have the sort of backing that has been present in most of these progressive primary victories. I track endorsements from a number of progressive organizations, and none of them have endorsed his candidacy. And his campaign does not seem to have much of a presence beyond its website. He has not reported spending or raising any money; for comparison, Goodwin has over $40,000 on hand and has spent thousands of dollars.
However, I do think Guzman has a small shot because of the district’s demographics. Goodwin is a white woman representing a district that is 34% Hispanic and 22% black. (It is 31% white — less white than all but three Senate districts.) This year, seemingly entrenched white Democrats like Georgia’s Curt Thompson and Michigan’s David Knezek who represent diverse districts have often lost their primaries. In some cases, such as Knezek’s, they lost to opponents who appear not to have even campaigned. Guzman has an obviously Hispanic name, and that fact alone gives him a chance of winning. (He is in fact Hispanic, as far as I can tell.) Likely Goodwin
SD 2 (Providence). Ana Quezada, an RHCA supporter who narrowly defeated longtime incumbent Juan Pichardo in the 2016 primary [see map at left], is unopposed for re-election. This district has the highest Hispanic population (55%) and lowest white population (10%) of any Senate district; it was both Clinton and Obama’s second-best district in Rhode Island, behind SD 6. Safe Pro
SD 3 (Providence). Gayle Goldin, one of the RHCA’s lead sponsors, is unopposed for re-election. This district, which contains the College Hill neighborhood (Brown University and RISD) and most other areas around Hope Street, was Raimondo’s best district in the 2014 general election and is consistently very blue. Safe Pro
SD 4 (Providence, North Providence). Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who has blocked consideration of the RHCA in the Senate, is unopposed for re-election. He has $264,000 on hand and raised about $79,000 last quarter. Safe Anti
SD 5 (Providence). Senator Paul Jabour claims to be pro-choice. However, he has not come out in favor of the RHCA, and he received the endorsement of RI RtL in 2016. When asked about this rather glaring inconsistency, Jabour said that he had not ruled out voting on the RCHA if it came to the floor and claimed he had not actively sought the support of RI RtL. Yet he received their endorsement again this year.
Jabour faces two primary opponents, both of whom have declared support for the RHCA. One of them, Nick Autiello, faces heated attacks over his work as a Republican operative earlier this decade and posts he made about Obama suggesting that, for example, he is a secret Marxist. The other, activist Sam Bell, played a key role in 2016’s progressive victories with his work as the state coordinator for the Rhode Island chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America (RIPDA); he made a splash some years before that as well by discovering that the NRA had committed campaign finance violations in Rhode Island. Both are running to Jabour’s left in this district, which is so blue (D+56) that both Trump and Romney got less than 8% of the vote. Unlike Autiello, Bell has a long track record of left-wing activism.
Of the six progressive groups whose endorsements I track, Bell has the support of four to Autiello’s zero. Autiello has received the endorsement of the Rhode Island Latino PAC (RILPAC), though, which could matter in this 47% Hispanic district. (All three candidates are white, even though only 32% of the district is white.)
Bell has many other endorsements, including those of environmental groups like the Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) and the state Sierra Club chapter. He is also endorsed by Our Revolution RI and the Providence DSA. He seems to have strong activist support. Looking at spending since April 1, Autiello has spent the most, followed by Bell and then Jabour; the ratio is about 3:2:1, so no one candidate has dominated. However, outside of the 7/1–8/14 period, where all three candidates spent similar amounts, Jabour has been heavily outspent.
I do not yet have a rating for this race. I could imagine any of the candidates winning the nomination, but that does not mean the race is a tossup; I’m just not sure who the favorite is. I will be canvassing for Bell on Sunday morning, so I may have a better sense of things after that. The primary winner will be unopposed in November.
UPDATE: After talking with senior campaign staff, including Bell himself, I learned that his team is optimistic but does not feel assured of victory. Autiello has little support, in their assessment, and many apparent “supporters” of Jabour simply fear retaliation, most often from their landlords. Tossup Bell/Jabour, but I would not be shocked by an Autiello win
SD 6 (Providence). Senate pres pro tem Harold Metts is openly pro-life, but he is progressive on some issues, and he has even endorsed Aaron Regunberg’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor. He was in the state House from 1985 to 1998 and has served in the Senate since 2005. He faces Carlos Cedeno, who does not appear to have a serious campaign, and Jonathan Hernandez, a consistent progressive who is endorsed by three of the six tracked organizations.
Metts and Hernandez debated on August 9. From the start, they made the battle lines in the primary quite clear. The fourth sentence, from Hernandez, was: “I will support a woman’s right to choose [and] I will support LGBTQ rights, unlike my opponent.” In his opening statement and in responding to the first question, which asked about policy differences, Metts argued that his views on those issues don’t matter because “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land”, and so is same-sex marriage, which he also opposes. Hernandez countered by criticizing Metts for being the only legislator to vote against banning conversion therapy. When Metts again deflected by saying that his views are irrelevant, Hernandez pointed to the Supreme Court vacancy.
In 2016, Metts defeated Hernandez by nearly 20% in a two-way race [at left]. That does not bode well for the challenger’s chances. The district is heavily nonwhite: 43% of residents are Hispanic and 25% are black, while only 23% are white. Since this is a Democratic primary, there is a good chance that black voters will make up a plurality of the electorate. This probably helps Metts, who is one of the few black state legislators in Rhode Island. As of 2015, he was the only black state Senator — and had held that status for his entire time in the Senate. In the debate, Metts emphasized his record on issues like desegregation and racial gerrymandering, including his legal career.
One of Metts’s most notable cases was Metts v. Murphy, a racial gerrymandering case that reached the federal First Circuit. In the 2002 redistricting, two Democratic incumbents were redrawn into the same district. One was Sen. Charles Walton, Rhode Island’s first black state Senator; he was initially elected in 1983 after a new district map was drawn as the result of another racial gerrymandering lawsuit. But after 2000, he was drawn into the same district as Juan Pichardo, a Hispanic state Senator, and Pichardo won the 2002 primary. Interest groups for both African-Americans and Latinos criticized the new map. Metts himself said, “One super majority-minority district of eighty-one per cent that pits blacks against Hispanics is not the answer. Two districts could easily be created to protect the interests of both communities, but [legislators] have not done that.”
Metts sued on behalf of Walton, and while the federal district court ruled against them, the First Circuit vacated that ruling in March 2004. The case was settled later that spring by redrawing 12 Senate districts, placing Walton and Pichardo in different districts again. Pichardo continued to represent Senate District 2 until losing the 2016 primary to Ana Quezada, as discussed above. As for Walton, he did not run again. In Metts’s telling (during the debate),
“the community asked me to run for the open seat, because they know that — I will defend the least of society; I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo; I’m a man of my word and I’m not afraid to stand up for my constitutional rights or my beliefs.” [Metts paused and appeared to to glare at Hernandez before saying “my beliefs”.]
I tell this story partly to emphasize the complexity of this race. Metts has truly horrendous positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, and Hernandez is clearly more progressive. But Metts has a long record of genuinely meaningful work in support of civil rights for African-Americans. I do not point this out to suggest that it erases his bigotry; it certainly does not. But I think it is important to understand that elections are fought upon multiple lines; even if a majority of the primary voters are more aligned with Hernandez on policy, they might support Metts because of his track record on rights for black Rhode Islanders — or because they have not heard of Hernandez. Another factor working against Hernandez is the ballot order: he will appear third, after both Metts and Cedeno.
This district is based in South Providence, where National Grid is seeking to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. South Providence has the highest asthma rates in the entire state, and residents and activists have opposed the plant because of its health impact, in addition to the environmental grounds. Metts signed a July letter to federal regulators calling the plan “environmental injustice”; he issued a joint press release with Rep. Joe Almeida regarding the letter. Hernandez criticized the plan when he announced his campaign. Bizarrely, the candidates were not asked about the plant in their debate, unless I missed something. (As someone connected to environmental justice activism here in Providence, my understanding is that the plant’s approval is sadly a foregone conclusion at this point.)
This was the best Senate district for Democrats in the two most recent presidential elections: Obama won it by 88%, and Clinton won it by 82%. (Raimondo won by 50%, slightly less than her 54% margin in SD 3.) But that information is, of course, not terribly helpful for a primary contest.
Looking at the most recent financial period (8/15 to 9/4), Metts raised $7,060 to Hernandez’s $845 and Cedeno’s $450. Many of Hernandez’s contributors were family members, while almost all of Metts’s contributors were colleagues or organizations. Cedeno only spent $255 in this period; Hernandez spent over $4,500, while Metts spent over $7,100.
I think Metts is the slight favorite this year. He is entrenched, but so were Juan Pichardo and John DeSimone, to give two examples. Furthermore, the Kavanaugh nomination makes his abortion record more salient than before — and neither candidate is campaigning in a way that suggests they think the primary electorate will have a pro-life plurality. But Cedeno very much could act as a spoiler. Tilt Metts (Anti)
SD 7 (Providence, North Providence). Sen. Frank Ciccone is yet another conservative Democrat facing a primary challenge in the Senate. In 2016, Ciccone only won his primary by 8% against an opponent who ran to his left in this deep blue district. The incumbent has an A rating from the NRA and has received RI RtL’s endorsement in the past.
His opponent, Shannon Donahue, barely qualified for the ballot. She was initially judged to have turned in just 98 valid signatures, two short of the 100 required, but she appealed to the state Board of Elections, which ruled that two previously invalidated signatures should be counted. Also, her only online presence besides Facebook is a fundraising page…on GoFundMe. It seems fair to wonder how organized her campaign is.
She does have support from 4 of the organizations tracked, and they could help make up for any organizational deficit; Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island (PPVRI) and the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (RI NOW) have directly contributed to her campaign. From 7/1 to 8/14, Ciccone led her less than 3–2 in fundraising and less than 2–1 in spending, which is not a very significant advantage; from 8/14 to 9/4, though, Ciccone spent nearly $8,000 to Donahue’s $0. This is not a typographical error, at least not on my part: she reported spending zero dollars. She raised $250 in that period, entirely from a 9/1 donation by PPVRI, which does suggest she might plan to spend again in the final week. It is also possible that she has simply been campaigning without spending money.
While Ciccone is clearly far from invulnerable, there is reason to doubt Donahue’s ability to defeat him. Lean Ciccone (Anti)
SD 8 (Pawtucket). Sandra Cano is Rhode Island’s newest state Senator — she joined earlier this year, after winning a special election to replace former Sen. James Doyle; in a more recent development, Doyle was indicted last month. She has no opponent in the primary but will face a general election opponent. This district is still quite blue: Obama +47, Raimondo +14, Clinton +31. Cano is the clear favorite. Safe Pro
SD 9 (West Warwick). Sen. Adam Satchell, who is unopposed in the primary, sits in a district that voted for Fung by 4% and Trump by 1%. (Obama won every Senate district.) He faces Republican David Gaipo in the general election. RI RtL has made no endorsement here, while several progressive groups have endorsed Satchell. He was unopposed in 2016, but he beat an independent challenger by 12% in 2014 and won ⅔ of the vote against his Republican opponent in 2012. Satchell has the advantage in this R+4 district. Likely Satchell (Pro)
SD 10 (Warren, Bristol, Tiverton). Sen. Walter Felag is completely unopposed in this district, which voted for Obama and Clinton but also for Bob Healey (by 5%). He has been endorsed by RI RtL, and he only has the support of one of the progressive groups I track, the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence. Safe Anti
SD 11 (Portsmouoth, Bristol, Tiverton). The incumbent, James Seveney, faces a challenge in November from Republican Stephanie Calise. Seveney is an RHCA supporter and has specifically said the bill should get a floor vote, while Calise is endorsed by RI RtL.
This district has a blue lean: Obama, Raimondo, and Clinton all won here, but none of them exceeded 15% of the vote. Drilling down further, it is actually 12 points redder than Rhode Island, according to my PVI measure, although this drops to 9 points when federal elections are ignored. Seveney was first elected in 2016, and he won his seat by defeating a Republican incumbent by 4%; as the incumbent, I expect him to improve on that performance. Likely Seveney (Pro)
SD 12 (Little Compton, Middletown, Tiverton, Newport). Sen. Louis DiPalma will face Republican Amy Veri in November. DiPalma has been endorsed by both RI RtL and the RICAGV. He defeated Veri by 20% in 2016, so he probably is not in much danger in this light blue (R+8) district. Safe DiPalma (Anti)
SD 13 (Jamestown, Newport). Sen. Dawn Euer [OY-er] was elected in 2017, easily defeating the party endorsee in a special primary before easily winning the general election in this blue district. Euer succeeded Teresa Paiva-Weed, who served as Senate President for eight years before becoming president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island. Paiva-Weed was a key opponent of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Euer will face Republican Matthew Paul Perry in November. She has broad support from progressive organizations against Perry, who is endorsed by RI RtL. She is a clear favorite given the district’s D+5 rating and her 2017 performance. Safe Euer (Pro)
SD 14 (East Providence). This is an open seat being vacated by Daniel Da Ponte, who had RI RtL support. Insurance agent Delamar Branco Condinho faces educator Val Lawson, who served as vice president of the National Education Association’s Rhode Island chapter (NEARI) in the Democratic primary. Condinho has support from the state party, RI RtL, and Da Ponte, while Lawson has broad progressive support. The winner of the primary will be unopposed in November.
The candidates attended a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters this Wednesday (Sept. 5). Both candidates performed well, in my opinion, although Lawson may have made a small gaffe when she thanked “the residents of East Providence and Pawtucket” in her closing statement. (SD 14 is entirely contained within East Providence.)
Neither candidate has an overwhelming financial advantage. From 7/1 to 8/14, Condinho raised about twice as much as Lawson and spent over three times as much. From 8/15 to 9/4, Condinho outraised her by a slightly larger proportion, but this time Lawson outspent him about 3:1. (She also ended the period with a cash-on-hand advantage of over 3:1.)
Lawson’s support extends beyond core progressive interest groups groups like PPVRI, NOW, the Rhode Island Working Families Party (RI WFP), and the RICAGV [all of which do in fact support her]. She is also endorsed by NEARI and UFCW local 328. NEARI’s support is especially noteworthy, as they do not oppose a single incumbent and have mostly supported party endorsees in open races. [I do not know whether NEARI endorsed her before or after Da Ponte announced his retirement; UFCW endorsed her last year.] Additionally, an SEIU local recently donated to her campaign.
This district is almost 75% white, and it is significantly less wealthy than Rhode Island as a whole. (Lawson is white, while Condinho appears not to be.) Given Lawson’s combination of progressive interest group support with union backing, I think she is the favorite. Lean Lawson (Pro)
SD 15 (Pawtucket, North Providence). Sen. Donna Nesselbush, one of the RHCA’s lead sponsors, faces no opposition whatsoever in this deep blue district. Safe Pro
SD 16 (Central Falls, Pawtucket). Elizabeth Crowley, another incumbent endorsed by both RI RtL and the RICAGV, faces no opposition whatsoever in this district, a heavily nonwhite seat that is among the state’s bluest. (Crowley is white.) Safe Anti
SD 17 (Lincoln, North Smithfield, North Providence). This district at last provides us with our first Republican incumbent, Thomas Paolino. It was previously held by an independent, Edward O’Neill, who easily fended off Democratic opponents in both 2012 and 2014. In 2016, O’Neill retired. Democrats nominated Jina Petrarca-Karampetsos in a four-way primary; she defeated Kevin McKenna, the 2014 nominee, and Dennis Lavallee, a union activist who will be this year’s nominee. But she lost the general election to Paolino by a 51–49 margin.
In 2016, Petrarca-Karampetsos was the RI RtL endorsee, but this year, the group has endorsed Paolino for re-election. Lavallee has the endorsement of the RI Working Families Party and Clean Water Action Rhode Island, but most progressive groups have not endorsed in this race.
This district perhaps has a slight red lean. Obama won here by 8%, one of his worst performances; Fung won by 4%, and Trump won by 5%. This is just one of two Senate districts where all three of those elections were decided by less than 10%, and one could make a case that it is simply closely divided, rather than leaning one way or the other. It has a rather high R+17 rating overall, but at the state level this drops to R+7, about in line with a tossup race. Tossup R/D
SD 18 (East Providence, Pawtucket). Democrat William Conley, yet another RI RtL+RICAGV endorsee, will face Jack Peters, an independent, in November. This is a fairly blue district, especially at the state level, where its rating reaches D+13. Conley was unopposed in the last three elections. I have low confidence in this prediction because his opponent is an independent, but at least for now, I rate the race Safe Conley
SD 19 (Cumberland, Lincoln). Sen. Ryan Pearson will face Republican Billy Charette this November in a rematch of the 2016 election, which Pearson won by about 12%. He was listed by PPVRI this year as a cosponsor of the RHCA, but I have found no public statements from him regarding abortion, and he is only endorsed by a single one of the progressive groups I track (RI NOW). He is also the Deputy Majority Leader, a position I doubt would be given to a solid progressive. RI RtL supports Charette. This state-level D+1 seat is Safe Pearson
SD 20 (Cumberland, Woonsocket). Roger Picard, who is supported by RI RtL, faces Republican Michael Veri this fall. This is a blue district (D+2 state-level median), and it has not been contested since redistricting. Safe Picard
SD 21 (Scituate, Coventry, Foster, West Greenwich). This seat is vacant. In January, state police began an investigation of then-Sen. Nick Kettle (R) for allegedly extorting sex from a Senate page. After his indictment on Feb. 19, President Ruggerio immediately called for Kettle’s resignation and threatened to expel him. (No one has ever been expelled from the Rhode Island Senate.) Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere also called for Kettle to resign. The expulsion resolution was filed on Feb. 21, and Kettle resigned on the 22nd.
In Rhode Island, a special election for the General Assembly can only be held if the vacancy occurs by February 5, so Kettle has not been replaced. There are three candidates to succeed him: Republican Gordon Rogers, Democrat James Safford, and independent Michael Fine. Oddly, RI RtL has not issued an endorsement in this district. This was the best Senate district for both Trump, who won it by just over 19%, and Romney, who lost by just under 2%. It scores at least an R+23 rating in all six of my PVI metrics, making it unquestionably the reddest Senate district in the state. In 2016, Kettle was easily reelected here, winning by 15%. Barring an unexpected development, Rogers is the clear favorite here in November. Safe Rogers
SD 22 (Smithfield, North Providence, small portion of Johnston). In the primary, Sen. Stephen Archambault faces progressive Melanie DuPont, who founded a pro-RHCA group and was part of the successful fight to ban conversion therapy in Rhode Island. DuPont is supported by a number of progressive organizations, including both PPVRI and RI NOW. Rhode Island Right to Life has endorsed the Republican candidate, Gregory James Tocco. (He is not to be confused with Stephen Tocco, a Smithfield City Council member who filed as a Democrat here but failed to qualify.)
Archambault was until recently one of just a few state Senators who was neither on record in support of the RHCA nor endorsed by RI RtL in 2016 or 2018. However, in late July, he came out in support of the RHCA. He said in the piece that “it is imperative that the General Assembly move expeditiously to pass the Reproductive Health Choice Act when the new session begins in January… [W]e no longer have the luxury of time. The Rhode Island General Assembly needs to adopt this legislation or women’s reproductive choice and privacy will be left to chance.”
The fundraising in this district gives both Democrats reason for optimism. From July 1 to August 14, DuPont outraised Archambault 4:1 ($3,437 to $850). But Archambault outspent her 1.8:1 ($5,700 to $3,200). He has the capacity to spend much more heavily: he had about $87,700 on hand on Aug. 14, while DuPont was slightly short of $4,500. Indeed, he outspent her by over a 10:1 ratio from 8/14 to 9/4 ($13,300 to $1,200).
The Valley Breeze reported on the primary campaign in late August. While Burrillville is not actually in this district, it is worth pointing out that DuPont opposes the proposed power plant [see my SD 23 writeup], while Archambault is neutral. I think this race is a Tossup in the primary.
Looking ahead to the general election, this seat has an R+9 rating in state-level elections. Trump and Fung both won here narrowly, and at the federal level, it has a much more daunting R+21 rating. Archambault defeated Republican opponents in 2016, 2014, and 2012 without ever falling below 57% of the vote, and if he is renominated, I rate this race Safe D. If DuPont is nominated, I rate it Likely D simply because she is not an incumbent.
SD 23 (Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield). This is an open seat being vacated by Paul Fogarty, who was endorsed by RtL in 2016. The Democratic candidates are former municipal court judge and Burrillville town councilor Kevin Heitke, the party endorsee, and left-wing environmentalist and organizer Paul Roselli, who was previously running for governor; in June, Roselli switched races and endorsed Matt Brown’s gubernatorial campaign. Roselli is president of the Burrillville Land Trust. There is also a Republican primary here, between Jessica De La Cruz, of North Smithfield, and John Pacheco, the Burrillville Town Council president. Neither Republican is endorsed by the state party, but Pacheco is endorsed by the Burrillville Republican committee. The Valley Breeze has further biographical details.
Heitke and Roselli are close to financial parity; while Heitke narrowly outraised Roselli from 7/1 to 8/14, Roselli narrowly outspent Heitke and finished with a narrow cash-on-hand edge (~$1870 to ~$1630). In the 7/1 to 8/14 period, De La Cruz raised about $650 and spent about $370, finishing with $378.46 on hand. Pacheco neither raised nor spent money, but he actually has the edge in terms of cash on hand: he had $385 in his account on 8/14.
Roselli is supported by PPVRI, NOW, Indivisible RI, RIPDA, and environmental groups like Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI), as well as the Glocester party committee. Heitke has the support of Fogarty himself and some unions, in addition to the Burrillville party committee. Roselli’s website says he is pro-choice, and he is on record supporting the RHCA during his gubernatorial campaign; he also supports single-payer health care. Perhaps surprisingly (given his endorsements), Heitke told RIPR that “if given the opportunity, [he] would codify the right to have an abortion in Rhode Island state law,” and the Breeze specifically reports that he supports the RHCA [see below for link]. In a Facebook post, Heitke declared himself “the electable candidate” but did not strike a particularly centrist tone.
This district contains all of Burrillville, and according to the Breeze, all four candidates oppose the proposed Invenergy power plant in the town, which has been at the center of a heated statewide debate. They differ, however, when it comes to what they would do to try to stop it. Roselli, who has publicly opposed the plant for quite some time, has an innovative proposal: he says he would use his platform to push for the use of eminent domain to stop the plant. Heitke says he is “looking… to basically offer an alternative as opposed to just saying no to the fossil fuels, no to anything that would be in my backyard.” (Also see here.) The Breeze says that Pacheco “is [a] familiar face for…those following the power plant debate,” but it does not say why. Finally, De La Cruz “would prefer the decision on the Burrillville power plant be returned to residents”.
This district could be competitive in November. Obama won it by only 6%, and it went to Fung by 10% and Trump by 19%. Fogarty was re-elected by 16% in 2016 even as Trump carried the district easily; in the last three elections, Fogarty never fell below 58% of the vote.
It is difficult to assess the primary here. In 2016, Bernie Sanders won 64% here, a rather strong performance, and in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, this was the only Senate district won by Clay Pell, who had the support of most teachers’ unions in that three-way contest. Pell’s 35% combined with the 29% won here by Angel Taveras, who most other unions supported, yields a full 64% of the vote (again). I’m not really sure what to make of this data, though. NEARI supports Heitke in this primary, but it has not donated to his campaign; the United Nurses and Allied Professionals also support Heitke. But Roselli’s support from environmentalist groups is quite relevant in this district. I think that support, and his clear record of opposition to the power plant from the beginning, give him a slight edge. The primary is Tilt Roselli
As for the Republicans, I think Pacheco’s time in public service gives him an edge, but non-presidential Republican primaries in Rhode Island are not exactly known for high turnout, making them difficult to predict. (For example, in 2014, Fung and his primary opponent combined for fewer votes than Pell, who came in third.) Also, Burrillville accounts for a much greater part of the district’s population than North Smithfield. Pacheco favored to some degree
In November, either Democrat will have a financial advantage over either Republican, but the district’s R+17/18 rating (in all six metrics) is quite daunting. It could go either way, especially depending on possible developments involving the power plant. I plan to rate this race sometime after the primary.
SD 24 (Woonsocket, North Smithfield). This is an open seat being vacated by Marc Cote, who was endorsed by RtL in 2016. Melissa Murray, who sits on the Woonsocket City Council, will be the Democratic nominee to replace him in this Obama +29/Raimondo +3/Clinton +6 district. Carol Frisk, who had originally qualified as a Democrat, eventually withdrew from the race. There will be three — yes, three — independent candidates on the ballot in November: Michael Disney, Glenn Dusablon, and Richard Garrepy.
Even when she had a primary opponent, Murray had significant establishment support. (Frisk was an RI RtL endorsee.) This was one of the only primaries where the state party had made no endorsement, and Murray has the support of Senate President Ruggerio. She has in fact been criticized from the left for ties to Invenergy: in 2017, she voted to sell the company water from Woonsocket’s city supply to cool their power turbines (the motion failed), and she recently returned a donation by a leading lawyer for Invenergy after facing media scrutiny. Nevertheless, she has broad support from the progressive groups I track, including Young Democrats of Rhode Island (YDRI), which is fairly left-wing. (I have met with the chair of YDRI’s PAC.)
In November, Murray is the presumptive favorite in this state-level D+7 district, especially because the independents are likely to split the vote against her. Likely Murray
SD 25 (Johnston). Incumbent Frank Lombardo III will face Republican Frank Ricci in November. Lombardo is anti-choice and has not been endorsed by a single progressive group that I know of in this R+6 district. Likely Lombardo / Safe Anti
SD 26 (Cranston). Incumbent Frank Lombardi sits in Allan Fung’s best district (he won by 29%), which is unsurprising, as it is located entirely within Cranston, where Fung serves as mayor. More informative is the district’s state-level median rating of R+16. But he faces no opposition this year, as the Republican candidate failed to qualify. Like Lombardo, he is supported by RI RtL and has no progressive interest group endorsements. Safe Anti
SD 27 (Cranston, West Warwick). Sen. Hanna Gallo will face Republican Jonathan Keith in November. Fung performed very well here, as this district is also located largely within Cranston, but the district went for Obama by 16%, and Trump only won here by 2%. This will be a rematch of the 2016 election, where Gallo defeated Keith by 12%.
This district has a rather unusual distinction: none of the tracked groups have endorsed at all, including RI RtL. (This is also true in SD 21.) Gallo is not an RHCA supporter, either. She spent the 2018 legislative session successfully pushing to update Rhode Island’s sex offender registration system.
This is Gallo’s race to lose. Safe Gallo
SD 28 (Cranston, small portion of Providence). Joshua Miller is completely unopposed in this blue district (D+5 SLM). He is a lead RHCA sponsor and has support from a number of progressive groups. Interestingly, Fung did not do nearly as well here as in the other two Cranston-based districts. Safe Miller (Pro)
SD 29 (Warwick). Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey faces Jennifer Rourke, a progressive who is a member of the RI Democratic Party Women’s Caucus. Rewire, a liberal site that reports on abortion rights, lists McCaffrey as one of the top sponsors of anti-choice bills. Rourke has support from some of the progressive groups I’m tracking, but not to the degree of many other challengers.
McCaffrey has outspent Rourke 11:1 since April 1, spending about $44,500 to her $4000. But his fundraising since July 1 has only been about twice as strong as hers. Rourke is at more of a disadvantage than Jeanine Calkin and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (for example) were before their 2016 victories, but I don’t think her deficit is so severe that she can’t win. (Ranglin-Vassell was outspent 4.7:1, and Calkin was outspent 3.2:1.)
The Warwick Beacon reports that Rourke has personally been campaigning so hard that “[her shoes] are falling apart at the seams”. She says that after 24 years in the Senate, McCaffrey has gotten “complacent” and “comfortable”. She also says that her top priority if elected would be passing the RHCA. When asked about Roe, McCaffrey said, “I support codifying Roe. v. Wade. It’s the law of the land.” That beggars belief.
I think McCaffrey is favored here, but I am not rating the race, because I don’t have a sense of the degree to which he is favored. The winner of the Democratic primary will be unopposed in November.
SD 30 (Warwick). Sen. Jeanine Calkin is the only incumbent senator who supports the RHCA that faces a serious re-election challenge, at least in the primary. She is serving her first term; in 2016, she defeated incumbent Sen. William Walaska in the primary. The winner of the Democratic primary will face no opposition in November. Calkin’s opponent, trial lawyer Mark McKenney, is endorsed by the state party, the AFL-CIO, and the Warwick Teachers’ Union; Calkin is endorsed by all of the organizations I track, including NEARI — with the obvious exception of RI RtL, which has made no endorsement here. No one else in either house holds this distinction.
Looking at his stated positions as provided to RIPR, McKenney is supportive of Roe (and seemingly the RHCA), single-payer health care, and a $15 minimum wage, so he’s not terribly far to Calkin’s right. But the Beacon reports that there are distinctions in what they would focus on:
“In terms of policy, the two candidates differ as to how far they’re willing to go on some progressive issues. In campaign literature Calkin vows to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and institute a single-payer Medicare-for-All style system, while McKenney wants to focus on supporting small businesses, improving the DMV and instituting line-item veto, a change that would give the governor more power to cut wasteful spending out of the budget.”
McKenney might “support” the same policies as Calkin, but it is clear that Calkin would be far more focused on pushing them. Calkin supports Matt Brown, while McKenney presumably does not. Also, McKenney is purportedly a personal friend of Walaska’s. She has also criticized McKenney over his current lobbying work. While he heavily outspent her from 4/1 to 8/14, they were much closer to parity from 8/15 to 9/4: McKenney spent $6,700 to Calkin’s $5,900.
Given the incumbent’s wide progressive support (and volunteer base) and her 2016 victory against Sen. Walaska, I rate this race Likely Calkin
SD 31 (Warwick). Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata will face Republican Jennifer Moffat this fall. Lynch Prata supports the RHCA and is endorsed by the RICAGV, while Moffat is supported by RI RtL. Neither PPVRI nor RI NOW has endorsed Lynch Prata yet, and she is probably a less solid progressive than most of the RHCA supporters. This district leans blue: Obama won here easily, while Fung and Clinton won more narrowly. It is R+9 at the state level, so a Republican could probably win here under certain conditions. I rate it Lean D (Pro)
SD 32 (Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). Cynthia Armour “Cindy” Coyne, who is progressive, will face Republican David Aucoin this fall. This district has a slight red lean relative to the state. Coyne faced two other Republicans in 2016 and 2014, winning with 53.8% of the vote (excluding write-ins) each time. She’s the clear favorite in November against Aucoin, who has the support of RI RtL. Safe D (Pro)
SD 33 (Coventry, West Greenwich, small portion of East Greenwich). Leonidas “Lou” Raptakis, a conservative Democrat, faces Republican Scott Copley in the general election. This seat was contested by other Republicans in 2014 and 2012, and Raptakis won easily. In 2016, Copley ran as an independent, and Raptakis defeated him by 3%. This district’s relative PVI is R+16, making it one of the reddest districts held by Democrats. Raptakis is supported by RI RtL, and he boasts on his website that he is “ranked #1 out of 32 Democratic Senators by the RI Freedom Index to protect taxpayers”. I haven’t studied this race closely, but my initial assessment is Likely D (anti)
SD 34 (Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, Charlestown, West Greenwich). Incumbent Elaine Morgan (R) will face progressive Democrat Jen Douglas this fall. There are no other candidates. This seat swung from Obama +13 to Trump +8 and was also Fung +8; its overall relative PVI is R+18. Morgan is supported by RI RtL, while Douglas has the support of progressive groups, including both major pro-choice groups.
Morgan was first elected in 2014, defeating the incumbent Democrat by 5%, in a 15% swing from 2012. In 2016, they faced off again, but Morgan won by 10%. There is not evidence from state House elections suggesting it is likely to flip either; in particular, HD 39, which is entirely within SD 34, voted Republican by 20% in 2016. It is worth noting, however, that the district voted for Langevin by about 8% at the same time Trump was winning by 8%. In 2014, Gorbea eked out a win here and McKee fell just short, but it was still one of the worst districts for both of them.
I wouldn’t write off Douglas for the fall, but she starts as at least a modest underdog. Lean R (Anti)
SD 35 (East Greenwich, Narragansett, North Kingstown, small portion of South Kingstown). Sen. Mark Gee (R), is vacating this seat. Dana Gee, his wife, is the Republican candidate. The Democratic primary is between Gregory Acciardo, a former state senator with significant baggage, and Bridget Valverde, the vice chair of the RI Democratic Party Women’s Caucus. Acciardo was originally endorsed by the state party, but they rescinded their endorsement around the time they rescinded Earnheart’s.
Acciardo has faced a number of criminal charges over the years since he lost reelection all the way back in 1992. Some (assault charges) were dropped; he was convicted of others, but two of those convictions were overturned. Most recently, he was convicted of driving under the influence in 2010. His 1994 conviction for vehicular manslaughter appears to remain in place, but the record has been sealed. Unsurprisingly, Valverde has made an issue of Acciardo’s record in the campaign.
Valverde outspent and outraised Acciardo from 8/15 to 9/4 by less than 2:1. However, Acciardo neither raised nor spent any money before 8/15, while Valverde has been spending (and raising money) for quite some time.
Two local papers, the Independent and the East Greenwich Pendulum, reported on a debate between Valverde and Acciardo in late August. Valverde emphasized her support for reproductive rights, calling the fight for the RHCA “the issue that really got me involved in politics in Rhode Island”. Acciardo said his main priority would be addressing the opioid epidemic.
Valverde has broad support from progressive groups. Notably, there is no RI RtL endorsee here; this was the case in 2016 as well. Valverde has also received a disproportionate degree of support from other progressive candidates, including Aaron Regunberg, and she has significant financial resources as well, with over $17,000 on hand as of September 5. (As of July 1, Gee was very underfunded, but this may have changed since then.)
This district was Obama +2/Fung +1/Clinton +9, but its PVI relative to the state is R+18. While Gee was unopposed in 2016, he won re-election by 17% in 2012 and 8% in 2014. Looking at the precinct-level vote tallies from 2016, Gee won 5557 votes in precincts within GOP-held state House districts and 5387 votes in those within Democrat-held districts; there were 5446 votes at the state House level within the Republican-held district and 6457 in the Democratic-held districts. (Only a few of those precincts were actually contested in the House.) Furthermore, the district voted 54–37 for Jim Langevin in 2016. This was 11% behind his statewide margin, which is actually a large improvement in relative margin over every Democrat to run statewide or federally since 2010, except for Raimondo and of course Clinton. So there seems to be real movement in the district. This is also backed up by Gee’s unusual slide between 2012, a reasonably good year for Democrats, and 2014, one of their worst in decades.
This is the wealthiest Senate district: the median income is $87,400, and 46% of households have 6-figure incomes. This is probably relevant to its swing in 2016. (It’s worth noting that the next-wealthiest district is SD 32, which is held by Democrats.)
Given the overall dynamics here, my assessment is that Valverde is a strong favorite in the primary but is not guaranteed to win. I think she is a slight favorite in the general election as well. Likely Valverde (Pro) in the primary; Tilt D (Pro) in the general
SD 36 (North Kingstown, Narragansett). Sen. James Sheehan faces Alana DiMario, a licensed therapist running to his left, in this district, which favors Democrats.
This is an Obama +15/Fung +0/Clinton +14 district, but its partisan ratings put it close to even, at R+7 federally and R+11 at the state level. The Republican nominee is John Silvaggio.
The Independent profiled this race in early September. Sheehan told the paper that “most people aren’t familiar with my record,” which could cut both ways. The Independent also asked both candidates about the RHCA, and Sheehan took the opportunity to declare his support for it: “Prior to [Anthony Kennedy’s retirement], I thought it was improbable the high court would reverse Roe. It’s possible for the first time I’ve actually seen as a state senator.”
DiMario responded by pointing out that Sheehan had refused to take a position for quite a while, hiding behind the defense that Roe was not in danger, which both candidates now agree is incorrect. “He didn’t want to have to take a side on the issues and was telling people for a long time that they shouldn’t be worried, and that wasn’t well received by myself or a number of other constituents.”
Sheehan was still listed by RI RtL as an endorsee when I last checked (Sept. 6), which may be telling. A recent letter to The Independent by some of his women constituents reveals that Sheehan is sending direct mail claiming that “codifying federal abortion-rights protections into state law” is on his “To Do list”, but that he did not specifically mention the RHCA in the mailer. My reading (and theirs) is that Sheehan is taking this stance because he has a primary opponent and is scared he might lose.
This primary could go either way, and I rate it a Tossup. The general election is unrated for now.
SD 37 (South Kingstown, New Shoreham). Sen. Susan Sosnowski, a lead sponsor of the RHCA, is unopposed. This district has a slight blue lean relative to the state, and it includes Block Island, which is equivalent to New Shoreham. Safe Pro
SD 38 (Westerly, Charlestown, South Kingstown). Longtime Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R), who has RtL support, sits in an Obama +16/Raimondo +1/Clinton +5 district. At R+5, it is a bit redder than the state, but not a single Democrat running statewide or federally has lost here since the district was drawn. A slight majority of the district is represented by Democrats in the state House. This may be something of a missed opportunity for Democrats, but it’s hard to be sure, especially because Algiere is quite entrenched: he’s served in the Senate since 1993 and has been the Minority Leader since 1997. He won his last contested election, all the way back in 2006, with 57.6% of the vote. His last name is pronounced “al-JEER”, according to my ethics professor. Safe Anti