AP News Guide: Top races in Rhode Island’s general election
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island voters are electing a governor, U.S. senator and a number of other officials, and they’re also deciding whether to approve the first phase of an ambitious plan to rebuild schools.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is trying to fend off Republican Allan Fung and independent Joe Trillo to earn a second term.
In federal races, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse faces Republican challenger Bob Flanders. Rhode Island’s two representatives in the U.S. House, Democratic Reps. James Langevin and David Cicilline, also face Republican challengers.
Voters are deciding whether the state will spend $250 million to rebuild schools.
The hyper-charged environment nationally is expected to drive record turnout in some places.
Raimondo and Fung were their parties’ nominees in 2014. Raimondo won with 41 percent of the vote, over Fung’s 36 percent, in a three-way race. Forty-four percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots then.
Rhode Island has nearly 790,000 registered voters, of which about 45 percent are unaffiliated, 42 percent are Democrat and 13 percent are Republican. Polls open in most places at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
A closer look at some of the key races:
Raimondo is making the case for a second term by telling voters she could continue Rhode Island’s economic momentum. She often talks about the number of jobs that have been created in Rhode Island and the declining unemployment rate since she took office.
Fung and Trillo accuse Raimondo of taking too much credit for the state’s improving economy. Fung is promising to lower the sales tax and slash business fees and taxes.
Fung said Raimondo is an insider whose leadership has failed. He’s highlighting the disastrous rollout of a public benefits computer system. Raimondo has gone after Fung, the mayor of Cranston, for what she called “public corruption” in his police department. Both Raimondo and Trillo have brought up Fung’s police department and a 2015 Rhode Island State Police report that found Fung was among those responsible for deep dysfunction there.
Trillo left the Republican Party to run as an independent, but has still earned the support of some high-profile Republicans. He has tried to cast himself as the only one who can beat Raimondo.
Whitehouse is touting his record in the Senate, particularly his work to protect people’s health care and to address the nationwide opioid epidemic, in the hopes of earning a third term. He’s one of the leading voices in the Senate advocating for more action on climate change.
Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice, is telling voters he could be more effective in Washington as a Republican and as a problem-solver. He’s critical of Whitehouse’s focus on climate change.
Langevin and Cicilline are asking voters to return them to Washington so they can try to make health care and prescription drugs more affordable, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure or try to reduce gun violence, among other priorities.
Langevin, who’s seeking a 10th term, faces Republican Salvatore Caiozzo, a self-described moderate who said he ran so he could be the voice of Rhode Island in Washington. Cicilline, who’s seeking a fifth term, faces Republican Patrick Donovan, who describes himself as an “environmental Republican.” Donovan wants to change the way prescription drugs are disposed of, both to protect the environment and prevent misuse.
The first statewide ballot question Tuesday asks voters’ permission to spend $250 million over five years to help municipalities build new schools and renovate existing facilities as part of a 10-year plan.
If approved, the state money, combined with municipal spending, is expected to eventually total more than $2 billion. Voters would be asked to approve another $250 million in 2022. Raimondo has championed it, asking for a “once-in-a-generation investment” to fix schools after years of neglect.
There’s no major concerted opposition to the question, but some have questioned whether all school districts would benefit.
Voters are also being asked to authorize $70 million on higher education facilities and $47.3 million for environmental and recreational projects, in the other two statewide ballot questions.
One of Rhode Island’s most powerful politicians, Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, is up for re-election in his Cranston district against a Republican rival that came close to beating him in 2016.
Mattiello faces Republican Steven Frias, who lost by 85 votes in 2016. The Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence are trying to get Cranston residents to vote Mattiello out because they don’t feel he addressed issues important to them. Mattiello has also recently faced criticism over how he has handled sexual harassment claims at the state house.
Mattiello calls his opponents “extreme progressives.” He’s campaigning on his successes as speaker, including phasing out the car tax.
In Providence, Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza faces independent Dee Dee Witman.
Elorza is running on his first-term record, telling voters he could continue improving the city’s finances, schools and quality of life. Witman, a political fundraiser, is questioning Elorza’s leadership. She has criticized his handling of a teachers’ contract and recent school bus drivers’ strike.