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RI POLITICS

Holding onto two House seats not only helps R.I., it helps Governor McKee

The incumbent Democrat no longer must face the possibility of running against a popular US congressman in 2022, analysts say

Pink spring blossoms at the Rhode Island State House.

#rhodeisland
Pink spring blossoms at the Rhode Island State House. #rhodeislandSuzanne Krieter/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — When the US Census Bureau announced on Monday that Rhode Island would keep its two seats in the US House of Representatives, the news certainly came as a relief to Representatives James R. Langevin and David N. Cicilline.

But as Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, pointed out Monday: “The big winner today is not the obvious winner; it’s Governor Dan McKee.”

McKee, the former lieutenant governor who became governor March 2 when Gina M. Raimondo became US Secretary of Commerce, has catapulted into front-runner status in Rhode Island’s 2022 governor’s race, analysts say. But his status was threatened by the possibility of having to compete against a well-known — and well-funded — former congressman if either Langevin or Cicilline decided to run for governor rather than vying for a single at-large House seat.

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Now, that threat has evaporated.

“Dan McKee should buy lottery tickets,” Walsh said Tuesday. “He is very, very happy today, or he should be.”

“I think it is good for McKee,” said Providence College political science Professor Joseph Cammarano. “It certainly creates one less potential strong opponent for him.”

Walsh said either Langevin or Cicilline would have been a formidable opponent for McKee in the 2022 Democratic primary for governor.

“Congressman Langevin is perceived to occupy the same lane in the Democratic Party as McKee: more the center/left than the left,” he said. “And Congressman Cicilline draws strength from the same area that the governor does, representing the Blackstone Valley for years, and he has great strength in Providence.”

Also, both congressmen are proven campaign fund-raisers. Cicilline raised $655,347 in the first quarter of this year, bringing his war chest to $1.1 million, while Langevin raised $118,220, bringing his campaign account to $786,258, according to the Federal Election Commission.

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Cammarano said McKee now enjoys front-runner status in the 2022 governor’s race by virtue of being the incumbent. In his view, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner are tied for second place in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive Democratic primary, and Providence’s mayor, Jorge O. Elorza, would be next.

Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who ran for governor as an independent in 2018, announced on April 8 that he will run again in 2022, this time as a Democrat. But with $1,250 in his campaign account, Muñoz is seen as a long shot, Cammarano said.

Another potential Democratic candidate, former attorney general Patrick C. Lynch, has ruled out running in 2022.

Although other candidates could emerge, Walsh said, “We are starting to see the potential 2022 governor’s race getting locked down. Normally, by this time, the field starts to take shape, as early as it seems. Each event informs the discussion. This is the next piece of the puzzle.”

Cammarano said it’s less clear who the 2022 Republican candidate for governor will be. He noted that House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, Representative Patricia L. Morgan, former state Supreme Court justice Robert G. Flanders Jr., and Moderate Party founder and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Block have all been mentioned.

But he said the candidate might end up being “a wealthy Republican to be named later” who has never run for public office, following in the footsteps of former Republican governor Donald L. Carcieri.

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And, he said, there will be interest in the races for other statewide offices — such as general treasurer, secretary of state, and lieutenant governor — because those contests will help determine the state’s next generation of leaders, and potentially include a future governor.


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