Dee from the Desk: Taking Republicans seriously

 In one of the bluest states in the country many people are surprised to learn that the state has a history of electing Republican Governors.

A Democrat hasn’t been elected to the office since Bruce Sundlan in 1991. (Governor Chafee does not count since he was elected as an Independent and later affiliated as a Democrat.)

Before Sundlan we had three one term Democratic Governors and prior to that in 1963 we had Republican Governor John Chafee. All-in-all Rhode Island has had 32 Republican Governors and 21 Democrats.

As the state consistently elects Democrats to every other office it is an interesting conundrum that they fight to make it into the Governor’s office. Why is that? Do Democrats just not take their Republican opponents seriously? In 2010 Democrat Frank Caprio virtually ignored Republican John Robitaille until it was too late. Caprio focused all his energy on Independent Lincoln Chafee. In the end, Caprio came in third with Robitaille finishing in a close second to Chafee.

Now Raimondo needs to be careful to not to let the past repeat itself. While Democratic candidate for Governor Gina Raimondo just spent all her efforts and $5 million trying to push through the Democratic Primary against Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, she now finds herself underfunded and seemingly unprepared to battle Republican Allan Fung. While Fung has likely been planning his strategy against Raimondo for months since she was shaping up to be the Democratic front runner it appears that Raimondo’s strategy may have played better against a more traditional candidate like Fung’s Primary opponent, Ken Block. For instance, Raimondo could easily have tied Block, a businessman, to former Republican Governor Don Carcieri who also came to the political world from a business background. It’s a little more difficult to do that with Fung who people know as the young Asian Mayor of Cranston.

Raimondo is emerging from the Democratic Primary with a depleted campaign coffer and her opponent Fung has come out of the primary to a restacked campaign coffer after he benefited from state matching funds. He now has more than $1million to spend on the General Election.

While Raimondo has proven to be a strong fundraiser it is likely she is hitting some roadblocks as many of her donors may have already maxed out their donations to the candidate. But as outside money starts to pour into the race, Raimondo can easily overcome the financial set back. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already confirmed that his Political Action Committee will step in and run ads for Raimondo. Additionally the national “LeadHERship” PAC says it will run ads in Rhode Island in support of Raimondo.

Meanwhile, Fung is bringing in his own outside powerhouse, prominent Republican Chris Christie. The New Jersey Governor is also the chairman of the National Republican Governors Association which works to help get Republican Governors elected across the country. The support of Christie has not gone without criticism with some Republicans calling Christie a “RINO” AKA “Republican in Name Only” and shaking their heads at his support of Fung. While Christie might not be as hard line as some Republicans prefer his support is still a boost to Fung who could use the outside money and influence in his race.

Fung is also bringing in another powerhouse; former GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney is coming in to help rack in the bucks and host a high level fundraiser next week.

As Fung seems to be emerging from behind in this race, as Republicans often do in the RI governors race, the Raimondo camp should stepping up there game. In some sense they are, having released a new ad responding to Fung’s 38 Studios attacks suggesting the Cranston Mayor is being fiscally irresponsible with his pledge to default on the moral obligation bond. Raimondo is driving her message of fiscal responsibility home with the ad saying she is able to make the tough decisions to protect the taxpayer.

There are a couple other factors to consider when it comes to November. First, it’s an off year election so voter turnout promises to be low, which is a good thing for Republicans in Rhode Island, who traditionally do better when there is no presidential candidate on the ticket. Additionally, if history is any indicator, Rhode Island Republicans have a tendency to pick up steam in October which is sometimes enough to put them over the edge in November, especially in the Governor’s race.

And don’t forget the role of voters in Providence. While some may pull the master lever, others will be voting for Independent Buddy Cianci and this means they may consider casting a vote outside of the Democratic Party, for either Moderate Bob Healey or Republican Allan Fung. At the same time, the Providence Mayoral Race could also benefit Raimondo because it may boost voter turnout in the most heavily Democratic city in the state. With the largest number of Democratic voters and with Raimondo having the home field advantage this could give her campaign an edge.

As we saw during the primary the voters this year are anything but typical and they are looking for change. The Democrats should not take any race for granted this election cycle because it is clear this year more than any that voters are looking past party lines and at the candidate.

Follow me on Twitter: @DeedeQuattro