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RI POLITICS

Endorsements helping voters pick a Democrat in R.I. Senate special election

With “left of center” candidates agreeing on many issues, voters are using endorsements and high-profile supporters as a “shortcut”

The Rhode Island State House.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE — The five Democrats vying to represent Providence’s East Side and Fox Point neighborhoods in the state Senate agree on many issues, so voters are using endorsements and high-profile supporters as a “shortcut” to pick a candidate in the upcoming special election, analysts say.

Endorsements could play a more significant role than usual in the Senate District 3 race because all five candidates are “left of center,” and with the Democratic primary coming up on Oct. 5, voters will have precious little time to determine what distinguishes one candidate from another, Providence College political science professor Adam S. Myers said.

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“Voters have to invest some time in learning about the candidates in order to decide who to vote for, and a lot of people don’t have time on their hands,” Myers said. “So endorsements offer what political scientists call an information shortcut.”

Endorsements don’t always carry a lot of weight, but the cues of endorsements and high-profile support could prove especially valuable in a “highly educated district full of politically sophisticated and knowledgeable people,” he said. “I think that in Senate District 3, these endorsements do matter.”

Myers noted that some endorsements will come with the added benefit of volunteer campaign workers to go door-to-door and staff phone banks to boost a candidate. “It’s about the grassroots mobilization that goes along with it,” he said.

For example, groups such as the Rhode Island Political Cooperative and the Rhode Island Working Families Party “are definitely helpful if they provide a candidate with an army of volunteers that can go canvassing and door knocking,” Myers said. “In a state like Rhode Island, where the legislative districts are so small, and in a special primary, when the number of voters is generally not that great, just mobilizing a few hundreds is a huge deal.”

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Goldin, a progressive Providence Democrat who championed abortion rights legislation and challenged the Senate leadership, stepped down on Aug. 17 to join President Biden’s administration as a senior adviser in the US Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.

The five Democrats running to succeed her are Bret Jacob, Hilary Levey Friedman, Geena Pham, Ray Rickman, and Sam Zurier.

A sixth candidate, Shirley Francis-Fraser, failed to get the 100 signatures on nominating papers that she needed to be on the ballot. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Alex Cannon in the Nov. 2 general election.

The Globe asked the five Democrats to name their top five endorsements or well-known supporters. Here are their responses:

Bret JacobHandout

Bret Jacob, director of research and development and LGBTQIA+ liaison in Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s office:

  • Rhode Island Working Families Party
  • Linda Kushner, former Democratic state representative
  • Jeff Levy, Goldin’s husband and a member of the Senatorial District Committee that endorsed Jacob
  • Aaron Regunberg, former state representative and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor
  • Myrth York, former state senator and Democratic candidate for governor
Hilary Levey FriedmanCourtesy of Hilary Levey Friedman

Hilary Levey Friedman, a former president of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization for Women:

  • Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea
  • The Rhode Island AFL-CIO
  • The Providence Firefighters Union
  • The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence
  • The Armenian National Council of Rhode Island


Geena PhamCourtesy of Geena Pham

Geena Pham, a public school teacher in Massachusetts:

  • The Rhode Island Sunrise Movement
  • Black Lives Matter RI PAC
  • Climate Action Rhode Island
  • Reclaim RI
  • Fellow Rhode Island Political Cooperative members such as Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat
Ray RickmanAlexander Gim-Fain

Ray Rickman, a former state representative:

  • Rose Weaver, a film and stage actress and singer
  • Dr. Michael Fine, a former director of the state Department of Health and chief health strategist for the City of Central Falls
  • Rhode Island Black Political Action Committee
  • The Rev. Howard M. Jenkins Jr., minister at the Bethel AME Church and president of the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island
  • Teresa L. Jenkins, “first lady” of the Bethel AME Church


Sam Zurier, a former Providence City Council member:

Sam ZurierHandout
  • Representative Edith H. Ajello, a Providence Democrat
  • Providence City Councilwoman Helen Anthony
  • Marie Langlois, retired managing director of Washington Trust Investors
  • Karina Wood, executive director at Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Rhode Island
  • Former Providence City Councilman Seth Yurdin

Voters will get a chance to learn more about the candidates on Thursday. A Zoom forum will take place at 6:30 p.m., hosted by the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, the College Hill Neighborhood Association, the Summit Neighborhood Association, and the Wayland Neighborhood Association. Boston Globe columnist Dan McGowan will moderate.


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