Several major national figures are making their presence felt in the race for Rhode Island governor.
Last Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) and a potential presidential candidate, visited Johnston to campaign for Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the GOP gubernatorial nominee.
On Thursday, Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, was set to be in Providence for a Fung fundraiser.
And later this month, former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton is scheduled to make a stop in the Ocean State to stump for General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Speaking with members of the media after greeting scores of people at Luigi’s Restaurant & Gourmet Express on Hartford Avenue, Christie touted Fung’s chances in the Nov. 4 election.
“My job [as RGA chairman] is to try to elect and re-elect Republicans as governors…This was not a state that was on our radar six months ago,” he said. “It is now firmly on our map.”
Polling has suggested a close race, with Raimondo holding a slight edge over Fung. A WPRI 12/Providence Journal survey released Wednesday found Raimondo holding a 42-36 percent edge over Fung, with Moderate Party candidate Robert Healey drawing 8 percent.
A recent Rasumussen Reports survey found the general treasurer with a 42-37 advantage, while a CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll found Raimondo leading Fung by a narrower 41-38 margin. The Fung campaign last month released the results of an internal Public Opinion Strategies survey it said found the candidates were tied at 42 percent support.
Christie called Fung “extraordinarily qualified and competent,” and said he would “bring people together” in the governor’s office. While acknowledging he met the Cranston mayor for the first time during his Oct. 10 visit, Christie said the two have spoken several times over the phone.
Christie said he plans to return to Rhode Island at least once more, and possibly twice, to campaign for Fung. While there was no formal commitment to RGA spending in the Rhode Island race – and Christie stressed that his organization cannot coordinate with Fung’s campaign – the New Jersey governor said the group is “going to work in every way we can” to support Fung.
“I believe in Allan Fung,” he said.
Christie’s colorful and at times combative style was on display as he responded to a question about whether and why he has criticized Raimondo.
“I’m here because I’m for Allan Fung, because I believe he will be the better governor for the people of Rhode Island, and whatever inferences you want to make are free for you to make. But don’t put words in my mouth. Next question,” he said.
Christie acknowledged he is mulling a 2016 presidential bid, but did not elaborate further.
Fung called Christie a “great guy” and thanked him for his visit and support.
Pete Baptista, coordinated campaign director for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, issued a statement blasting both Fung and Christie.
“It’s no surprise that Allan Fung is bringing Chris Christie to campaign for him; Christie seems to be the kind of governor Fung wants to be. They share a cavalier attitude towards credit ratings, and between the two of them they have presided over 9 credit rating downgrades and two scandals. They both oppose raising the minimum wage. Chris Christie’s failed leadership is not working for New Jersey, and it isn't going to work for Rhode Island. Allan Fung will make Rhode Island’s economy worse,” Baptista’s statement reads.
Many local officials and lawmakers were on hand for Christie’s visit. Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena presented the New Jersey governor with a key to the town and accompanied him and Fung as they greeted supporters at Luigi’s.
“I like him because he tells the truth…He’s a down-to-earth person,” Polisena said of Christie. “If he runs for president and wins, hopefully he’ll remember the town of Johnston, R.I.”
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian was also in attendance, as were a bevy of Fung administration officials and campaign staffers. Several Fung supporters held signs and waved to passing traffic as they awaited Christie’s arrival. Following the gathering at Luigi’s, Christie accompanied Fung to a private event in Cranston.
Romney was set to serve as the headliner for Thursday’s Fung fundraiser at the Providence Biltmore. Romney had endorsed Fung in the waning days of the Republican gubernatorial primary.
The Fung campaign on Wednesday announced that Romney would meet with members of the media on Thursday afternoon, although the fundraiser itself would remain private.
The details of Clinton’s visit are unclear, although it will reportedly take place Oct. 24. Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is widely seen as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party in 2016.
President Barack Obama will also be in the Ocean State on Thursday, delivering remarks on the economy at 3 p.m. at Rhode Island College. There has been no announcement regarding whether the president will campaign for Raimondo.
The campaign for governor has been spirited thus far, with the Fung and Raimondo camps clashing over abortion rights, television commercials, outside spending and the candidates’ records.
There has also been crossing, or blurring, of party lines in terms of endorsements. Raimondo’s campaign last week announced it has received the backing of Brendan Doherty, former Rhode Island State Police superintendent and 2012 GOP congressional candidate.
“To me, this race for governor is about one thing. Who can fix Rhode Island’s economy? I don’t care too much about party labels; it is about results. It is clear after looking at both candidates that only Gina Raimondo has the right ideas, a sound approach and the tenacity to get the job done,” Doherty states in the Raimondo campaign’s announcement.
Polisena, meanwhile, represents a segment of Democrats who have yet to embrace Raimondo and speak highly of Fung. The Johnston mayor on Friday did not explicitly endorse either candidate, but called Fung a “personal friend” who as a fellow municipal chief executive understands the difficulties facing the state’s cities and towns.
“I really want to make sure whoever is our next governor remembers our cities and towns,” Polisena said.