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Who will be the next R.I. governor? Ranking the potential candidates

Next governor won’t be elected until 2022, but jockeying already underway to succeed term-limited Governor Raimondo

The dome of the Rhode Island State House.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Rhode Island won’t elect a new governor until 2022, but the jockeying, speculation, and fundraising has already begun. So the Globe is launching quarterly rankings of those viewed as potential successors to Governor Gina M. Raimondo, who faces term limits.

The rankings are informed by fundraising totals, media coverage, and interviews with political operatives and long-time observers of Rhode Island’s political scene from both the Democratic and Republican parties. The rankings are bound to change as people make their intentions clear, as contributions roll in, and endorsements are made. So stay tuned.


1. One of the Congressmen: David N. Cicilline or James R. Langevin


US Representatives David N. Cicilline and James R. LangevinHandout

The 2020 census could very well set up a showdown between Rhode Island’s longtime Democratic congressmen. Projections show that Rhode Island is one of 10 states that could lose a seat in Congress based on the new population data. If one of the congressmen decides to run for governor, that candidate would catapult past others with high name recognition and a proven ability to raise money. Now, if a Democrat wins the White House, one of the congressmen might join the administration. Plus, Cicilline is rising in the ranks, Langevin has been in Congress since 2001, and others are more likely to run for governor. But a congressman would make a major impact on the race.

2. General Treasurer Seth Magaziner

General Treasurer Seth MagazinerJulie Brigidi

The four state general officers are all Democrats seen as potential gubernatorial candidates. The treasurer, secretary of state, and lieutenant governor face term limits and are considered likely to run. At 36, Magaziner is young. But as the son of longtime Clinton political adviser Ira Magaziner, he has access to a vast political network, and he has $734,000 in his campaign account. He was a summer intern at Raimondo’s venture capital firm, and some see her supporters gravitating toward him. But it remains to be seen who Raimondo will back.


Secretary of State Nellie M. GorbeaGretchen Ertl

3. Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea

At a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, Gorbea and Magaziner sat side by side, testifying in favor of gun control legislation -- representing one of many moments when the two Democrats will be maintaining a high profile, competing for progressive support. She was the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in New England, but she could end up competing for the Latino vote if both she and Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza run for governor. She has $193,000 in her campaign account.

Providence Mayor Jorge O. ElorzaCat Laine/© Cat Laine

4. Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza

The term-limited Providence mayor maintains a high profile and has amassed $690,000 in his campaign account. But making the leap from City Hall to the State House has proven difficult in Rhode Island. The last Providence mayor to become governor was Dennis J. Roberts in 1950. Even the legendary Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. failed in his attempt at the top job on Smith Hill. And it doesn’t help that one of the biggest stories now is the state takeover of the Providence public schools after a blistering report by Johns Hopkins University researchers. But Elorza did beat Cianci to become mayor, so you can’t count him out.

Lieutenant Governor Daniel J. McKeeHandout (custom credit)/Handout

5. Lieutenant Governor Daniel J. McKee

The former Cumberland mayor cuts a far less progressive profile than Magaziner, Gorbea, and Elorza. And if Trump wins re-election, Democratic primary voters might not be scanning the horizon for a moderate. But if a Democrat beats Trump, some wonder if Raimondo will head to D.C., perhaps for a Cabinet post. That would elevate McKee to the governor’s office, providing him with a much better platform than the lieutenant governor’s office. And he would benefit if the progressive vote gets diluted by multiple candidates. He now has less than $15,000 in his campaign account.


Joseph R. Paolino Jr.Handout

6. Former Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr.

Paolino, who served as mayor from 1984 until 1991, just attended a fundraiser for House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello while wearing a “Paolino for Governor” pin. As it turns out, the pin was not newly minted -- it was left over from 1990, when he ran for governor and lost to Bruce Sundlun in the Democratic primary. Now a major real estate manager and developer, Paolino has expressed interest in running for governor again, and he would have the resources to launch a campaign. But the question is whether Paolino, host of “In the Arena” on ABC 6, will jump into the arena again.

Attorney General Peter F. NeronhaHandout (custom credit)/Handout

7. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha

Rhode Island’s attorney general would be near the top of this list if he were showing an inclination to be governor. The former U.S. attorney has fans across the political spectrum and $49,000 in his campaign account. But in a wide-ranging interview with reporters last week, Neronha was unequivocal. “I’m not running for governor -- ever,” he said. “I ran for this job because I like this work. I don’t have any ambitions beyond this job.” Still, he continues to be mentioned as a potential candidate, and a lot could change by 2022.


House Majority Leader K. Joseph ShekarchiHandout (custom credit)/Handout

8. House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi

With more than $1 million in his campaign account, the Warwick Democrat certainly has enough cash to launch a run for governor. “I like to keep all my options open, so if an opportunity came, I always want to have the resources to make that decision,” he said in 2015. But observers suspect he is more likely to pursue another option, such as running for treasurer or trying to become House Speaker whenever Nicholas A. Mattiello steps down.

House Speaker Nicholas A. MattielloHandout (custom credit)/Handout

9. House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello

Rhode Island’s most powerful politician has plenty to worry about besides the 2022 governor’s race. A grand jury has issued subpoenas amid an investigation into why he ordered an audit of the Convention Center Authority. The Cranston Democrat is on the witness list in the money-laundering case brought against campaign strategist Jeffrey T. Britt in connection with Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign. But his drive to eliminate the car tax could provide the basis for a statewide campaign. And he has $115,000 in his campaign account.

Former Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch (AP Photo/Stew Milne)Stew Milne/ASSOCIATED PRESS

10. Former Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch

Lynch, who served as attorney general from 2003 until 2011, is still sitting on a campaign account containing $273,000. But he dropped out of the last governor’s race he entered, in 2010, and he now runs a government and public affairs firm, working with attorneys general and staff around the country. Lynch had a plaque in his office with a quote from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and the “Spidey sense” consensus says that Lynch stays put and doesn’t run.



Jeffrey GrybowskiHandout (custom credit)/Handout

1. Jeffrey Grybowski

This North Kingstown resident is the former CEO of Deepwater Wind, which built the first U.S. offshore wind farm. The Danish company Ørsted bought Deepwater Wind for $510 million in 2018, so he should have no problem funding a campaign. And he has political experience, having served from 2003 to 2007 as chief of staff to Republican Governor Donald Carcieri, an advocate of offshore wind. Grybowski is an unaffiliated voter and says he would not rule out running as an independent, a Republican, or a Democrat. While Lincoln D. Chafee became governor as an independent, Grybowski lacks Chafee’s name recognition.


House Republican Leader Blake A. FilippiHandout (custom credit)/Blake Filippi

1. House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi

The Block Island Republican, organic cattle farmer and practicing attorney stepped up his profile in recent weeks. He sued House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, claiming he abused his power by ordering an audit of the Convention Center Authority. And he questioned “Order of Merit” awards issued by President Trump and the RNC, saying, “In this country we don’t pledge our ‘undying commitment’ to individuals or political parties. We pledge it to the Constitution and the rule of law.” He has $33,000 in his campaign account but says he’s focused on the priorities of his district and the House GOP caucus. “While it is nice to be considered a contender for higher office, I rarely think of it,” he said.

Ken BlockHandout (custom credit)/Handout

2. Ken Block

Block founded the Moderate Party and received 6.5 percent of the vote as the Moderate Party candidate in the 2010 governor’s race. In 2013, he announced he had joined the Republican Party, and he ran in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary, losing to Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung. At this point, he doesn’t have a dime in his campaign account. But the Barrington businessman and software engineer has launched a nonprofit called Watchdog RI, and he remains engaged on a range issues, such as pushing for a line-item veto.

Cranston Mayor Allan W. FungHandout (custom credit)/Handout

3. Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung

In 2014, Fung lost the governor’s race to Governor Gina M. Raimondo by 5 percentage points, and in 2018 he lost to Raimondo again, this time by 15 percentage points. He might think the third time would be the charm, as it was for former Democratic Governor Bruce Sundlun. But others fear he would be more of a Myrth York, the Democrat who lost the governor’s race three times. With about $27,000 in his campaign account, Fung lacks the kind of money that fueled Sundlun’s campaigns. Also, he’s term-limited and entering his final year as mayor, so he won’t have that platform in 2022.

Former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey.Stew Milne/ASSOCIATED PRESS

4. Former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey

Steve Laffey, who served as Cranston’s mayor from 2003 until 2007, has lived in Colorado since 2010. But the outspoken conservative has been talking about riding in out of the West, returning home to Rhode Island to try to save the state from the forces he sees afflicting it. He has the money to remind people who might have forgotten about him. But he didn’t fare well in his last Rhode Island election -- losing a bitter Republican US Senate primary to Lincoln D. Chafee, who went on to lose to Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.