TALKING POLITICS

Campaign highlights clashing visions

Posted

With the DNC and RNC in the books, one of the few things about which partisans agree is how America will be changed by the results of the November election. Back in 2004, up-and-comer Barack Obama memorably emphasized “the United States of America.” But the country’s fault lines have become only sharper since then, with broad swaths of the U.S. favoring either President Trump or Joe Biden. In other words, the 10 percent or so of undecided voters across the land could decide the outcome in November. Even the reliably blue state of Rhode Island has pockets of support for the president, as evidenced by the crowd that turned out for a recent rally in and around Colt State Park in Bristol. And Trump decisively beat Hillary Clinton in the traditionally Democratic town of Johnston in 2016, illustrating not just shortcomings with her campaign, but also the work that Democrats need to do in winning over socially conservative leaning voters and those who credit Trump on the economy. Of course, Trump has his own liabilities, helping to gin up enthusiasm among Democrats. And the pandemic and his response to it have complicated the incumbent’s reelection prospects. Looking ahead, the presidential contest will grow more intense, with the two campaigns debating which is worst for the country. Biden’s supporters believe he will heal the country’s divisions, while Trump’s backers see him as the safeguard against a socialist dystopia. The distance between these two clashing views tells us a lot about America’s collective psyche in 2020. It underscores the difficulty of building broad support for tackling the nation’s most dire problems. And come November, we’re all going to be on standby watching for the possibility of a contested vote and an ensuing constitutional crisis.

***

While incumbency brings advantages, the pandemic means that Rhode Island’s September 8 primary will be unlike any in recent history. Add to that how various progressive groups – Working Families RI, the RI Political Cooperative, and Sunrise – are pressing their respective efforts. As TGIF reported on August 14, SEIU1199 NE is waging an aggressive independent expenditure campaign, in an attempt to get state reps with primary challenges to state their stance on a ‘safe staffing’ bill backed by the union for nursing homes. SEIU has endorsed Brandon Potter, the challenger to Rep. Chris Millea (D-Cranston), as well as Leonela Felix and Rep. Dan McKiernan (D-Providence). Adanjesus Marin, lead organizer for SEIU1199NE’s lifelong care team in Providence, said the push includes a 10-person daily phone bank, mailers, and full-page ads in the Cranston Herald and Warwick Beacon.

***

Opponents of Encompass Health’s plan for a 50-bed rehabilitation facility in Johnston – approved last week by RI Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott – are considering whether to go to Superior Court to appeal the decision. While Johnston officials like Mayor Joseph Polisena call the project a win-win, lobbying groups representing hospitals and nursing homes fear it will cut revenue and divert patients seeking services for hip fractures, strokes and similar ailments. The founder of what became the publicly traded Alabama company behind the project has quite a checkered past. But unlike how subsidies fuel most of the things that get built in Providence, Encompass Health has said it will pay itself to build its $42 million rehab center.

***

Antipathy toward President Trump is fueling Democratic fundraising, if Rhode Island is any indication. RI’s Democratic National Committeeman, Joseph R. Paolino Jr. reports that a virtual fundraiser last week with Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris brought in more than $1 million. “It was incredible,” Paolino said, adding that when the late Mark Weiner and he once staged a fundraiser with Michelle Obama at his East Side home, “I don’t think we hit half a million.” The former mayor said he expects the final haul from the event to hit $1.25 million.

***

Former ProJo political columnist M. Charles Bakst was among those taking part in the virtual fundraiser. He offers this report on what it was like: “I appreciated the opportunity to see the VP candidate, who was animated, full of energy, and stumble-free. Her lines are polished but come across as spontaneous. On the other hand – well, you undoubtedly have experienced the frustrations of Zoom sessions. For example, Governor Raimondo was tapped to introduce the candidate, but didn’t appear, and later, when it was announced that a-ha, now we have the gov, she wasn’t there again. I assume she had technical difficulties. Harris fielded questions – Art Solomon asked one, and so did Paul Choquette, the Brown football hero who went on to lead Gilbane Building Co. – and it was fascinating to watch, although, again, Zoom can be clunky – someone may be called on and there’s a pause and you hear, ‘Am I on?’ Etc... My takeaway from Harris is that besides being personable she is one determined nominee and that she and Biden are not going to stand by, relax, and let Trump and the Republicans define them and villainize them the way the GOP did to Mike Dukakis in 1988.”

***

Did you hear about the brash upstart challenging a longtime Democratic member of Congress from Massachusetts? You might think we mean Joe Kennedy’s bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ed Markey in the Bay State’s September 1 primary. We’re actually referring to the challenge by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse against longtime U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The race has included a series of bonkers twists and turns, including a plot to derail Morse’s campaign. And of course, there’s a Rhode Island connection, since Morse went to Brown and interned at City Hall during U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s time as mayor of Providence.

***

Press critic Jack Shafer says Democrats’ warnings about political interference with the Post Office are overheated: “It’s true that the USPS has sent letters to 46 states expressing its doubts about delivering all the ballots in time to be counted. But, as the Washington Post also mentioned in its story, those letters were in the works before Trump’s new postmaster general took office. It’s also true the USPS needs billions of dollars from Congress, which Trump made noise about vetoing. But that has little to do with delivering ballots for the election, as he implied on Fox. It’s Trump’s particular genius for pulling together unrelated things that has liberals and election wonks in a tizzy.”

***

People on the Move: Mike Raia, a former comms director for Gov. Raimondo, starts a new gig at Johnson & Wales University in late September, as a VP of strategic communications. Via news release: “In this role, he will be responsible for aligning JWU’s admission, marketing and communication strategies with the university’s academic and institutional priorities as Johnson & Wales positions itself to become a more comprehensive university.” Raia is currently at NAIL [PR] ... Jennifer Lawless, who ran a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin back in 2006, is now chair of the politics department at the University of Virginia … Devin “Short Pants” Driscoll, a PC alum who led President Obama’s RI campaign in 2012, started this past week as the regional voter protection director for Virginia Democrats, working virtually from his base in Minnesota.

***

The RI ACLU this week said Attorney General Peter Neronha is making it harder for citizens to get information about police misconduct. Neronha’s office says the AG is relying on the “balancing test” included in the most recent revision to the state’s open records law, and he also called on Narragansett PD to revisit its refusal to release any records in response to a citizen’s inquiry.

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR member station. Listen at 89.3 FM or visit thepublicsradio.org. You can sign up for weekly email delivery of Ian’s column each Friday by following this link.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment