19 Days to Election Day: Rhode Island

Rhode Island is a solid blue state and should be again this year. In 2008, Obama took 62% of the vote here. In fact, looking back at past elections, even when the Republican won in this state, it was never by double digits after the 1956 election. Thus, one can safely say that Obama will take this state’s 4 electoral votes.

Sheldon Whitehouse- the incumbent Democratic Senator- is perhaps one of the most radically liberals in the Senate. He won his first term in 2006 riding on the wave of anti-Bush sentiment, unseating liberal Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee who has since become Governor as an independent. Besides being a vocal critic of the Bush Justice Department, he is also an unabashed supporter of universal health care and the single payer system arguing that Obamacare did not go far enough. In short, he is not only one of the most liberal current Senators, but also one of the most controversial in his statements and views. Most importantly, his approval ratings are nothing to write home about in his home state. That potentially gives an opening to the GOP.

Realistically, for a Republican to prevail in Rhode Island, they have to be either pragmatically moderate or liberal. Such is the nature of the Rhode Island electorate. Trying to take advantage here of this situation is Republican Barry Hinckley, a successful businessman, who describes himself as a “liberty republican.” Simply, he is fiscally conservative and a vocal critic of Obbamacare and deficit spending practices. However, he is also pro-choice and supports same sex marriage. One area that Hinckley has exploited is Whitehouse’s incessant fight for campaign finance reform. Hinckley has correctly pointed out that despite the rhetoric, over 30% of Whitehouse’s funds come from special interests. Conversely, only 2% of Hinckley’s funds come from PACs. And, Hinckley has proven a rather decent fundraiser for a relative unknown. In 2006, Whitehouse won with 53% of the vote over incumbent Chafee. This writer believes that he will prevail by about the same amount this year against a relative unknown which does not bode well for Sheldon Whitehouse, quite frankly. An incuumbent who has out-raised his unknown opponent 4-1 should win by a larger margin.

Both Democratic incumbent congressmen are seeking reelection. In the First District, the ethically-challenged David Cicilline- one of a few openly gay members of Congress- faces Brendan Doherty for the Republicans. Cicilline is the former mayor of Providence and that is where his problems originate. In 2010, he decided to run for the open 1st District seat of the retiring Patrick Kennedy. He claimed that he was leaving the city in “good fiscal shape.” After the election, Providence was in anything but “good fiscal shape,” a comment Cicilline later apologized for and that Doherty has used to his advantage. His brother, a defense attorney in Rhode Island, served jail time for shaking down drug clients. There are also accusations that Cicilline improperly intervened in certain questionable city transactions. Doherty is a former state trooper who worked his way up the ranks eventually becoming superintendent of that force until 2011. Cook political report puts this race as a toss up although others put it as leaning Democrat. Personally, this writer believes that there is a perfect storm of events that seriously threatens Cicilline’s incumbency this year. If he wins, it will not be by much- at most 4 points. Recent polling puts him in the lead, but the lead is not insurmountable. Being Rhode Island and looking at this year from a worst case scenario for the GOP, I will give this race to Cicilline, but would not be seriously surprised if Doherty should pull it out at the end.

In the other race- the 2nd District- incumbent Jim Langevin, the first quadriplegic elected to Congress, should have no problems defeating his Republican opponent, Mike Riley. Riley has served on the Naragansett Pension Board and his expertise is in the financial industry.

Besides questions to expand casino gambling in the state, voters are being asked to approve a whopping $189 million in bond issues. About half of that amount- $94 million- would be for the construction of a new veteran’s home in Newport and renovations of existing facilities. Another $50 million would be for construction and upgrade of academic buildings at Rhode Island College. Another $20 million would be for upgrades for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure and the final $25 million would be for the construction of affordable housing throughout the state. Rhode Island is not that big, nor is it that heavily populated. Rhode Island currently ranks 47 of 51 (DC included) in terms of existing state debt. While these may all be worthwhile and needed projects, one needs to question what the existing debt has bought the state before they get further in debt. Everyone wants fresh drinking water, quality academic buildings, decent housing and we all want to take care of our veterans. But, $94 million for a new home for veterans? Does that come with butler service? Just to illustrate how the state works, before any casino referendum is voted upon this November, the state has figured in that anticipated revenue towards their budget. Wouldn’t it make better sense to make sure the voters first approve the measure? In effect, by doing this, they are forcing the voter’s hands: “If you disapprove of these casinos, we will have to cut the budget.”

In conclusion: Obama takes their 4 electoral votes and Sheldon Whitehouse is reelected in a close race. Both Democratic representatives return to the House, but don’t be surprised if David Cicilline loses.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads in the electoral vote count 178-159 while Republicans control the Senate 34-30. In the House, the Republicans are holding on 139-131 at this point.

Next: Connecticut