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The key factors in Tuesday’s state Senate primary in District 3

On Rhode Island Report podcast, Globe columnist Dan McGowan reviews who’s running and what’s at stake in the race on Providence’s East Side

Left to right, Hilary Levey Friedman, Bret Jacob, Geena Pham, Ray Rickman, and Sam Zurier.

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s political realm is riveted on the state Senate district 3 special election on Providence’s East Side, where progressive groups are backing different candidates in a Democratic primary set for Tuesday, Oct. 5.

The outcome is difficult to predict because while the five candidates agree on many issues, they each bring different strengths to the contest, and a relatively small number of votes could catapult one of them to victory, Boston Globe columnist Dan McGowan said on the latest Rhode Island Report podcast.

Among other factors, endorsements will play a role in determining the winner, he said.


“To some degree, it always helps to have validators,” McGowan said. “And in a local race, especially in a district that is well informed, it’s going to pay a lot of attention.”

For example, candidate Ray Rickman is endorsed by former US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, Hilary Levey Friedman is endorsed by Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, Geena Pham is endorsed by state Senator Tiara Mack, Sam Zurier is endorsed by state Representative Edith H. Ajello, and Bret Jacob is endorsed by former state Senator Myrth York.

Name recognition could be a major factor, especially in a sprint that provides newcomers with little time to introduce themselves, McGowan said.

For example, Zurier is a former Providence City Council member who is known for the newsletter he sent to his constituents on the East Side, and Rickman is a former state representative who has touted his record during the campaign.

But the newer candidates will benefit from the support of groups that will go door-to-door and staff phone banks, McGowan said.

The Rhode Island Political Cooperative will turn out for Pham, the Rhode Island Working Families Party will turn out for Jacob, and labor groups such as the Rhode Island AFL-CIO will turn out for Levey Friedman.


McGowan agreed that the primary provides an early test of the strength of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, which captured attention last week by announcing that it will run Matt Brown for governor, Senator Cynthia Mendes for lieutenant governor, and up to 50 candidates for state and local office.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for them,” McGowan said. “They’re not going to go away if they lose.” But if the co-op candidate wins, he said, “They’re going to be able to tout that, take it and call it momentum.”

But there is a chance that the co-op and the Rhode Island Working Families will “cancel each other out in some ways,” McGowan said. If those two progressive groups had backed the same candidate, that person would likely be the favorite today, he said.

At the same time, Zurier and Rickman could cancel each other out as the “elder statesmen” in the race, McGowan said.

Yet another factor will be fund-raising, McGowan said. With seven days until the primary, Levey Friedman had more campaign cash than her competitors, but all of them have stuffed mailboxes with campaign literature.

So, in the closing days, it is a tough race to call, and a candidate might only need 500 or so votes to emerge victorious, McGowan said.

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below:


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