Warwick has its independents, and they acted to keep their unaffiliated status after voting in Tuesday’s presidential preference primary.
“I’d guess there are 7,000 to 8,000 here,” said Dottie McCarthy yesterday, pointing to a carton filled with forms signed by registered voters who cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primary and were now disaffiliating. If McCarthy’s estimate is on target, that could be almost 50 percent of the 16,772 Warwick voters who cast ballots.
The state’s independents are credited with giving Bernie Sanders the win over Hillary Clinton in Rhode Island, an upset to the state’s Democratic hierarchy of elected officials who, with few exceptions, lined up behind Clinton.
In Warwick, Sanders won 58 percent of the Democratic vote with 5,888 votes. Clinton tallied 3,964, or 39 percent. Statewide, Sanders tallied 66,720 votes, or 55 percent of the votes cast. Clinton tallied 52,493 votes for 43 percent.
In the Republican primary, 4,316 Warwick voters cast ballots for Donald Trump, giving him a commanding 67 percent of the ballots cast. Statewide, Trump garnered 63 percent of the vote.
Coming in second in Warwick and the state was Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 22 and 24 percent, respectively. Ted Cruz won 9 percent of the city vote and 10 percent of the statewide vote.
Sanders’ performance even surprised Republicans.
“I never thought Bernie Sanders would prevail,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said. He called Sanders’ win “overwhelming” given the united Democratic establishment push for Clinton.
Sanders’ performance is what his organizers hoped for at Sunday’s rally at Roger Williams Park, which drew a crowd of 7,000.
“I think the biggest reason Bernie did well here is that the issues he’s focusing on are the same issues people are talking about around their kitchen table,” said Joseph Caiazzo, Sanders’ state political director. “People are sick and tired of politics as usual.”
Although the campaign has already shifted focus onto the next primary, Caiazzo said that Sanders was able to win with such a gap because Rhode Island was the only state in the lineup of five primaries Tuesday where independents were able to vote.
“That speaks to the fact that Sen. Sanders is the only candidate in this race that can band independents and Democrats together to get over that finish line,” Caiazzo said. “The people of the Ocean State are sick of transactional politics.”
That was also the read of a Warwick woman who was at the Board of Canvassers office Tuesday morning to ensure she was unaffiliated.
“People want a major shakeup and people are taking risks,” she said. She said “nothing is happening with Congress and in Rhode Island there’s one disappointment after the next.” She said high taxes are driving people out of the state.
A strong Clinton supporter and chairman of the state Democratic Party, Rep. Joseph McNamara said he was surprised by the Sanders win, although he doesn’t see it as affecting Clinton’s chances of becoming the party’s nominee. He said in the “greater picture” Clinton is closer to winning the nomination thanks to a “big win” in Pennsylvania.
McNamara believes Sanders’ message on college affordability and income equality really “resonated with working Rhode Island families,” and especially with younger, newer voters.
“Sanders did a great job about targeting voters and getting them out to vote,” he said. “In a primary with a smaller population, vying for votes like that is important.”
Although the representative wasn’t positive about the final numbers, McNamara said Sanders is likely to get nine delegates while Clinton receives six of the state’s 15 bound delegates.
A positive note for McNamara was that the Democratic Party saw a much larger voter turnout on Tuesday than the Republican Party, about twice as much.
“In the Democratic Party we have been having a healthy debate over the past few months, which has helped to move the party forward,” McNamara said. “It was very exciting to see so many people out there and engaged in politics taking the time to exercise their right to vote.”
Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell said it was exciting to see so many Republicans out and voting. He said he found Clinton “dishonest and scandal plagued” and he can understand Democratic voters gravitating to Sanders. While he doesn’t agree with all Sanders’ policies, he finds Sanders honorable, honest with great integrity. He believes this could be an election that “swings Rhode Island Red.” With such support for Sanders he doesn’t believe Sanders voters will stand with Clinton should she win the nomination.
McCarthy at the Board of Canvassers didn’t offer her views on the outcome for candidates, but rather on the primary process.
Based on the 2008 presidential primary where Barack Obama and Clinton faced off and 33.5 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots, she though a 40 percent turnout was possible. Citywide, the turnout was 28.98 percent (not counting mail ballots).
“I thought it was going to be higher,” she said. She thought the rain had an impact.
Poll workers were prepared for a high turnout, and the Warwick board divided each of the voters in the nine wards into alphabetical groupings so they could expedite voters once they were in the polls. It worked. McCarthy said the longest wait she heard of was 10 minutes, and random visits to three polling locations during the day by a Beacon reporter found short lines and minimal waits. That was not true of the parking lots at some polls, especially that at the Buttonwoods Community Center.
McCarthy said she heard that some people turned away because they couldn’t find a space, whereas if they had just waited a few minutes spots would have opened up because the voting went so smoothly.
One of those failing to vote was Lee Leach. He had planned to vote for Trump but discovered he was a registered Democrat, because he had voted in the 2004 Democratic primary. He was in City Hall yesterday to disaffiliate.
Leach called Trump “a little rough around the edges,” adding “he’s got some really good ideas. I think he’ll lock it up in California.”
That would surely make Stacia Huyler, who ran in a Republican primary two years ago against Mayor Avedisian, happy. Huyler, who ran as delegate for Trump, spent the morning of primary day as a “cheerleader for Trump.”
Although she didn’t win the position, she said it was a privilege to have been a part of the process at all. Outside of the First Baptist Church, she held her Trump sign until it started pouring.
Huyler was at the State House testifying on a firearm bill when she got the news Trump had swept every state in Tuesday’s primary.
“There was just so much excitement all day,” she said. “When he swept all the states, I was thrilled.”
Huyler said she didn’t campaign enough for herself, and all the chosen delegates deserve their spot at the convention.
She said, “I just wanted to show my support and I loved being a part of it. I got to see how the GOP operates a little better. I was happy to be with all the Trump love.”