Observers might not think of Rhode Island as a major player on the national political stage.
In terms of presidential and congressional elections, it has been reliably Democratic for many years, resulting in fewer candidate visits – and less outside money and attention – than more contested states like Florida or the Upper Midwest.
And while the current members of our federal delegation have worked their way to high-ranking positions in Congress, the Ocean State appears poised to lose one of its seats in the U.S. House after the 2020 Census.
Yet Rhode Island is far from forgotten on the political landscape, as recent news reminds us. Just in the past week, Gov. Gina Raimondo drew national attention for two reasons.
First, in Kentucky, Democratic candidate Andy Beshear won a close victory over GOP incumbent Matt Bevin – a significant accomplishment for the Democratic Governors Association, for which Raimondo serves as chairwoman.
Days later, aides to Michael Bloomberg reached out to Raimondo regarding the former New York City mayor’s moves toward entering the Democratic presidential primary. Raimondo, in turn, offered public praise for Bloomberg, although she stopped short of an endorsement.
Another presidential aspirant, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, visited the state for a pair of fundraising events, made his own Ocean State waves with a visit to Providence for two fundraising events on Sunday. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza were among the local pols to welcome Buttigieg, who standing has risen in early state polls of late.
Ocean State voters will have a chance to weigh in on the Democratic primary contest in April, and given the fluid nature of the field, it is possible more candidates will visit as the race for convention delegates heats up.
It can make a difference – after all, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders enjoyed an unexpectedly large win in Rhode Island during the 2016 primary campaign after appearing at a rally in Roger Williams Park. Of course, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her own local stop that year – as did President Donald Trump, who won the state’s 2016 GOP primary and outperformed other recent Republican nominees.
All this is to say that despite its size and status as a blue state bastion, Rhode Island is anything but off the radar when it comes to national politics.
And the appeal goes beyond just politics. As the Providence Journal noted over the weekend in its front-page story “Presidential playground,” at least 28 sitting presidents have come to the Ocean State – many for vacations or to otherwise enjoy the local recreational offerings.
So as 2020 nears, stay tuned. Rhode Island may end up being a more pivotal player than you’d think.