Can McKee close the deal with voters by Sept. 13?

Posted 8/9/22


The primary election on Sept. 13 has big stakes for Gov. Dan McKee. If McKee loses, he’ll be remembered as the short-term gov who inherited the office, thanks to being …

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Can McKee close the deal with voters by Sept. 13?



The primary election on Sept. 13 has big stakes for Gov. Dan McKee. If McKee loses, he’ll be remembered as the short-term gov who inherited the office, thanks to being lieutenant governor, after Gina Raimondo got a job in the Biden administration last year. On the other hand, if McKee wins the Democratic primary, he will likely emerge as the favorite to retain Rhode Island’s top job in the November general election. The perception of a close race between McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and former CVS Health exec Helena Buonanno Foulkes suggests that the incumbent has yet to close the deal with voters. Now, though, the governor has embraced campaign mode, as he demonstrated while making his case during an interview on Political Roundtable last week. McKee, 71, pointed to a series of legislative accomplishments (including the passage of gun bills and driver’s permits for undocumented residents), a string of investments around the state, and he said his experience makes him the best choice to continue leading the state. With Rhode Island experiencing record-low unemployment on his watch, McKee asked, “What do you think I’m going to get done if I get the four-year term? Significantly more.” The governor was less interested in responding to other questions – more about that later in this column. With less than six weeks to go, the primary race will continue to get more intense, with two M-words – money and message – proving vital. With second-quarter finance reports out this week, McKee’s campaign crowed about having $1.2 million, the most cash on hand, although not spending that down by this point can also be seen as a debit. A complicating factor is the field of five leading Democrats, meaning that a bit more than 30% of the vote could determine the winner. Still, the question remains: in an election season marked by anxiety about inflation and other concerns, will voters feel sufficiently moved to vote out an incumbent and choose a different direction?


Almost 31% of Democratic primary voters were undecided when The Boston Globe polled Rhode Island in June, so it’s worth pondering where all these votes will land. Conventional wisdom holds that undecided voters tend to favor challengers. But Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, in a look at presidential races, says otherwise.


While Gov. McKee focused on some issues in our interview, the governor (whose Roundtable appearance followed many

months of requests) was less interested in engaging with some other questions. One case was how, as the ProJo’s Kathy Gregg reported, his administration leaned on the state’s public records law in declining to disclose whether the governor’s office was subpoenaed in the state-federal ILO educational consulting contract controversy. Why not disclose that information in the interest of transparency? Here’s part of McKee’s response: “We have really talented, skilled people that have been in five different administrations that can make those decisions. If anybody has a question they can call our communications department. But we know we’re getting the proper advice to manage the state properly.”

On whether he was surprised by Attorney General Peter Neronha’s finding that Tony Silva, McKee’s former chief of staff, appeared to throw his weight around as a state official advocating for a personal development project in Cumberland, the governor said in part, “Well, that’s the attorney general’s business. In fact, halfway through, one page in, they said …, there’s no laws broken. That’s the main thing that for me, there was no laws broken.” On his own involvement in the matter, McKee added: “That report said that I was not involved. I knew I wasn’t involved. I do know that any other scandals [that] are brought up in the media, and pushed by the opponents in this campaign that have been going at it for a year and a half – there’s nothing there. They’re going to come up empty. I told you it was going to come up empty. And the Tony Silva issue, they came up empty ….”


A tale of two states.

Kansas, via NPR’s Becky Sullivan: “On Tuesday night as results rolled in for Kansas’s consequential vote on abortion rights, advocates on both sides of the abortion debate were watching closely, looking for lessons as they prepare for similar votes on abortion rights measures this fall. The results in Kansas — the nation’s first statewide vote on abortion rights after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June — has upended traditional wisdom about the politics of abortion. In a Republican-leaning state that preferred President Donald Trump by 15 points in 2020, the outcome was a landslide that few expected: Nearly 60% of voters chose to support abortion rights.”

Arizona (via NPR): “Mark Finchem, a state representative and election conspiracy theorist who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has won the GOP nomination to oversee voting as Arizona’s secretary of state ….” And “Two days after polls closed in Arizona, The Associated

Press called the Republican primary for governor for former local news anchor Kari Lake, an election-denying new convert to Republican causes.”

politics, op-ed


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