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Will Sabina Matos help Dan McKee win in 2022?

The first Latina lieutenant governor of Rhode Island will make an impact, but analysts wonder whether she will tip the scales in McKee’s favor in the hyper-competitive 2022 governor’s race

Governor Daniel J. McKee heads back into the State House after the inauguration ceremony.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — On Tuesday, Governor Daniel J. McKee chose Providence City Council President Sabina Matos to be his Lieutenant Governor, a political move that some analysts say immediately bolsters his chances of winning the 2022 governor’s race while others insist it will have only a “marginal” impact.

Multiple State House sources told the Globe that McKee had chosen Matos to be the first Latina lieutenant governor of the state. McKee, who succeeded Gina M. Raimondo when she became US Commerce Secretary, is expected to formally announce Matos as his pick Wednesday morning at the State House.

Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Matos will “absolutely” help McKee in 2022.


“Governor McKee is solidifying and expanding his political base of support and sending a message to all three of his potential rivals that the 2022 Democratic primary will be competitive and that he is not going gently into the good political night,” he said.

Providence is key to statewide political contests, especially Democratic primaries, Walsh said, so it can only help that McKee choose the president of the Providence City Council who has been winning elections in the city since 2010.

Also, he said it helps that McKee picked a Latina, given the significant political power the Latino community holds in the “powerful nexus” of Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls.

“I would say it is a savvy pick,” Walsh said.

In 2018, McKee edged then-Representative Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat, in the lieutenant governor’s race, but he lost Providence, where Regunberg received 11,422 votes to McKee’s 10,693.

Still, Walsh noted that McKee won the South Side and other areas outside of Regunberg’s East Side legislative district. And he said Matos can only help McKee if, as expected, the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary includes Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who lives in Providence.


McKee has said that he believes the state should allow governors and lieutenant governors to run as a ticket, and though such a change would require a constitutional amendment, working together can only help Matos and McKee, Walsh said.

“This is the first time we have seen an early dynamic of a governor and a lieutenant approaching the election as a team,” he said. “Her strength in Providence and in the Latino community helps him, and his strength in the Blackstone Valley and throughout the state accrues to her.”

Walsh said the “smart” counter move would be for Gorbea and Magaziner to run as a ticket, too.

Providence College political science Professor Joseph Cammarano contended that McKee’s choice of Matos does little to enhance his chance of winning the 2022 governor’s race.

“The lieutenant governor selection is marginal in terms of impact institutionally as well as politically,” he said.

Cammarano emphasized that he considers Matos talented and a “fine choice.” And he likened the selection to President Joe Biden’s choice of Vice President Kamala Harris as a running mate, saying McKee is “making sure Rhode Island public officials reflect the Rhode Island population more than they do now. And that is terrific.”

But McKee and Matos are not running as an official ticket, Cammarano noted, and voters could easily vote for one but not the other.

In 2022, voters are going to vote for – or against – McKee based on his performance as governor over the next two years, he said. And if voters are looking to back a woman or a Latino in the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary, they’ll likely be able cast a vote either for Gorbea, the first Latina elected to statewide office, or for Elorza, the second Latino mayor in Providence history, he said.


But the selection helps Matos enormously in holding onto the lieutenant governor’s office in the next election, Cammarano said. “She gets as much help as McKee got from Raimondo stepping down,” he said.

At this point, both McKee and Matos should be considered front runners in 2022, Cammarano said.

Regunberg, who came close to knocking off McKee in the 2018 primary with 49 percent of the vote, has been gearing up to run for the position again in 2022.

On Tuesday night, Regunberg sent the Globe a statement saying, “I want to share my heartfelt congratulations to Council President Matos on her selection as Lieutenant Governor. This is a historic milestone for our state and for women and BIPOC communities that continue to fight for representation.”

Regunberg said he has known Matos for years and appreciates her commitment to issues such as affordable housing in Providence. “Governor McKee has made a great choice, and I wish him and incoming Lieutenant Governor Matos the best as they take on new roles and engage us in envisioning the future,” he said.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.