Gina Raimondo was viewed as a political up-and-comer in 2010, when she was elected as only the second woman to serve as Rhode Island State Treasurer, winning in a landslide, and receiving more votes than any other candidate for any state office. She had already found great success in the private sector, having co-founded and served as the general partner of Point Judith Capital, a Rhode Island-based venture capital firm.
In 2014, Raimondo sought the state's highest political office: Governor. She breezed through the Democratic primary, defeating then-sitting Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and prominent Rhode Islander, Clay Pell quite easily (but with only 42% of the vote). She then took on Allan Fung (and Robert Healey) in the statewide elections, becoming Rhode Island's first-ever woman Governor. As Governor, she has taken steps to improve state infrastructure, and bring in new commerce, ostensibly with new jobs attached.
Based on the above, it would be fair to assume that such an accomplished leader will breeze through the 2018 elections, and retain her post as Head of State... but she wont.
And here's why...
As mentioned above, then-Treasurer Raimondo won the 2014 Democrat primary with an underwhelming 42% of the votes. Working to her advantage was the fact that it was a 3 way race, with Mayor Tavares and Clay Pell getting 29% and 27%, respectively. Were this a 2 way race, Raimondo may well have found herself giving a concession speech as opposed to a victory speech. The general election in November provided a similar outcome, with Raimondo netting 41% to Mayor Fung’s 36% and the late Robert Healey’s 21%. In a 2 way race, Raimondo’s 14,000 vote victory margin may not have been enough.
Rhode Islanders like to think of their governors and other state officials and ‘one of them’. Those who grew up in my generation can still remember the Blizzard of 1978 with Governor Garrahy and his flannel shirt, looking much like all the other Rhode Islanders struggling to dig out of the storm. For a variety of reasons, and perhaps a bit unfairly, many Rhode Islanders just don’t feel like she is ‘one of us’. Maybe it is her Wall Street connections or her Ivy League education (both of which are commendable and impressive), but the Rhode Islanders I have talked to just don’t seem to feel a strong connection to her.
Rhode Island is, and has been for a long time, a very strong Democrat state. However, within the Democrats there are 2 very distinct camps – the establishment Democrats and the Progressive Democrats. In what was considered an upset, Bernie Sanders won the RI Democrat presidential primary in 2016, besting Hillary Clinton. However, Rhode Island’s super delegates – of which the Governor is a member – all backed Clinton, which led to the perverse outcome of Sanders winning the primary, but Clinton emerging with more delegates. This understandably did not sit well with many Progressives, who rightfully felt that their desires were thwarted. Come 2018, one has to believe that this voting bloc will be prone to supporting any primary opponent of Raimondo that presents themselves.
It is estimated that about 30% of people in Rhode Island depend on some form of state benefits. The Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) program, which is tasked with administering these programs, was launched early at the Governor’s direction. In fact, Rhode Island was warned by the federal government that the program was not ready and that failures could result, yet it was pushed ahead anyway. The governor later indicated that she had been unaware of the warning, which highlights a communication failure among senior staff. Part of being a leader is the ability to re-examine your choices and put the best interests of those you lead ahead of your own hubris. That did not happen here.
While our Governor can certainly appreciate on an intellectual level the anguish that the UHIP disaster has wrought on those who are less fortunate and rely on state aid, the citizens who are dealing with it first-hand have a more visceral reaction. Those who have to explain to their families why food shopping has to wait, or the day care provider behind on her bills because the state payments for foster care children have been delayed, don’t care that the Governor is now blaming Deloitte for the rollout hiccups. Add to that the fact that she attended a Delloitte sponsored event in California after all the shortcomings came to light, and you have a profound image problem. Those affected by this will have long memories come 2018, when the Governor’s opponents will likely tie her to this issue.
Eyes on a Bigger Prize?
For all the negative perception that Governor Raimondo has received locally, her national profile is quite the opposite – there has been plenty of glowing press touting her outside of Rhode Island, perhaps in preparation for a Senatorial or Presidential run in the near future. It has been speculated that were Secretary Clinton to have won in November 2016, there could have been a job in that administration for Governor Raimondo. Since that failed to materialize, and with the current dearth of Democrat superstars on the national level, a successful re-election campaign could put her at or near the front of the pack in 2020.
As the above issues are examined, they point to very uncertain odds for a second term for Governor Raimondo. With public perception being what it is, and given her two victories in 2014 were with less than 50% of the vote, I feel that in a 2 person primary or in a 2 person general election Governor Raimondo’s odds of winning are slim. Her most realistic path to re-election would be a replay of 2014, with multiple primary and multiple general election opponents to divide the opposition vote. Until Rhode Island adopts election rules stipulating run-offs elections when no candidate has over 50% of the vote, we can expect more of these outcomes in the future.
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