A former Cranston state representative has set his sights on a seat in Congress.
Robert Lancia, a Republican who previously represented District 16 in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, this week announced he plans to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin in November’s election.
Describing himself as a “Rand Paul Republican,” Lancia pointed to what he calls a successful record of working across the aisle – even as he used stark terms to describe what he sees as being at stake at the ballot box this year.
“I believe that this election is an election of capitalism versus socialism. And I want to be one of those people that is on the side of capitalism,” Lancia said during an interview with the Herald on Feb. 7, three days before he announced his bid during an appearance on Tara Granahan’s WPRO radio show.
A Baptist minister, Lancia, 66, previously served as a Navy chaplain. He first elected to the District 16 seat in 2014, defeating former state representative Peter Palumbo. He won reelection in 2016, narrowly defeating Democrat Christopher Millea, before falling short to Millea in a 2018 rematch.
He subsequently mounted an unsuccessful bid for chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party, for which he now serves as outreach chair. He also serves as vice chair of the Rhode Island Republican Libertarian Caucus.
Following the 2018 election, Lancia said he and his wife, Maryann, “continued to state active” as he explored other political opportunities. He said he ultimately considered four possibilities – a run for state Senate, a bid to reclaim the District 16 seat, a run for Cranston mayor or a campaign for Congress.
“Talking to the people that I work with, and the people that advise me, we thought the best option at this point for a variety of reasons would be a congressional run,” he said.
He added: “I’ve been working closely with my party chair, [Sue Cienki], and I think I will be the candidate.”
Lancia said during his time on Smith Hill, he was a part of what was dubbed the “gang of five” by the Warwick Beacon – a bipartisan group of lawmakers who worked together on shared priorities. The group also included Evan Shanley, Kenneth Mendonca, Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Moira Walsh.
“It’s like anything else – whether you care for a person or not or you agree with their views or not, the ability to work across the aisle and work with people you need to get things done, ultimately is what we do,” he said.
In terms of policy priorities, Lancia said fiscal issues remain atop his list, as they were during his time in the General Assembly. He touted his work at the state level on the issue of funding for 911 telephone services.
“My No. 1 issue, even in the House, it’s always been financial,” he said. “Things like an inspector general, zero-based budgeting, line-item veto, voter initiative – those things were important to me. On a national level, same thing. The No. 1 issue? The budget deficit. We are bleeding red ink … It has to stop.”
Lancia said he is supportive of the “Penny Plan” put forth by Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, aimed at balancing the federal budget. Paul’s plan essentially calls for the federal government to spend one penny less over a period of five years for every dollar spent in a baseline fiscal year.
“That seems like a great idea to me,” Lancia said.
He was also critical of the current congressional delegation in terms of fiscal issues, saying: “That’s a disappointment I have with our delegation. They always talk about, they’re bringing the money home, but you’re bringing the money home from a company, the federal government, that doesn’t have it, either.”
Elsewhere, Lancia said he remains an advocate for increased school choice – “I believe, really, that education is the civil rights issue of our time,” he said – and supports comprehensive immigration reform.
In terms of foreign policy, Lancia said he wants to “bring our troops home” from ongoing deployments in the Middle East.
“We’ve lost time, talent, treasurer, a lot of good young men and women … It’s out of control. We can’t continue like this,” he said, adding: “It’s time to come home and focus here.”
Lancia said as the Democratic Party has moved to the left, he believes Langevin has been “pretty quiet.”
“He hasn’t stepped up. He hasn’t said how he feels about the direction of the country … We’re in a seminal moment, and I think he needs to stand up and say, hey, you know what, I don’t agree with the direction where the party’s going, we need to be going in a different direction,” he said.
He also questioned Langevin’s record more broadly, saying: “He hangs his hat on cybersecurity, but there’s all these other issues … People say to me all the time, what has he gotten done in 19 years? What is his major legislation over the 19 years? I can’t think of a single thing.”
Lancia acknowledged that his party affiliation presents a challenge running for federal office in Rhode Island. He also said he knows President Donald Trump makes for a polarizing figure at the top of the GOP ticket – although he added that “despite people’s feelings about the president, I do believe he’s going to be reelected.”
Lancia said he and his wife work actively to build connections across various communities in the state, particularly those of color. He said he believes those personal connections will be a boost to his candidacy.
“We have so many relationships with so many different communities. I’m sensitive about the fact of how they feel about the president,” he said. “I’ve got an R next to my name, and that’s tough. But people know us and they do love us, because we’re out there, we participate, we get involved.”
In terms of the Rhode Island GOP’s chances of making broader gains in the fall, Lancia said: “It takes good candidates and they have to be properly financed. And we haven’t done a good job of that. But I have a lot of confidence in our new party chair … and I’m very hopeful.”