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Advice for President Biden? Rhode Island’s Democratic candidates for governor don’t offer much

President Joe Biden walks with Col. Matt Getty, Commander, 89th Operations Group, as he walks to board Air Force One for a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

If you bore everyone to tears, you’ll get four more years.

That’s the TL;DR version of the advice that Governor Dan McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, state Treasurer Seth Magaziner, and former CVS executive Helena Foulkes have for President Joe Biden as he struggles with historically low job approval numbers 10 months into his presidency.

With Biden’s approval rating sinking to 36 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll last week (his average is somewhere around 43 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight), I asked all six of the Democratic contenders in Rhode Island governor to outline a new strategy for Biden to win back supporters following a difficult stretch that saw one Republican win the Virginia governor’s race and another nearly unseat the Democratic governor of New Jersey.


Their answers, for the most part, were underwhelming.

In fact, longshot candidate Luis Daniel Muñoz was the only one who appeared to put any thought into his response at all, while former secretary of state Matt Brown offered a different, if predictable, “blame the conservative Democrats” narrative.

Governor Dan McKeeMatthew J Lee/Globe staff

McKee, who was one of Biden’s earliest supporters and made a trip to the White House last week for the signing of the infrastructure bill, said the president should “stay the course” and offered to stand with him if he wants to visit Rhode Island.

“President Joe Biden and I share a basic goal as we come out of this pandemic: Get working people back on their feet with jobs that pay well and tax cuts that help their families,” McKee said. “The president’s Build Back Better plan is a huge win for working families in Rhode Island and for our economy. Rebuilding our roads, bridges, and rail means more jobs. And making child care and prescription drugs more affordable means more money in people’s pockets.”


Secretary of State Nellie GorbeaMatthew J Lee/Globe staff

Gorbea said she believes that Americans are about to start seeing the benefits of Biden’s advocacy — which should see him boost his poll numbers.

“For example, the infrastructure and job plans will deliver millions of dollars to Rhode Island — and as governor I will ensure that money goes directly to solving the state’s housing crisis, enabling Rhode Island to become a leader in renewable energy, as well as improving education for children and supporting teachers across the state,” Gorbea said.

This, dear readers, is called pivoting.

And there’s a lot more where that came from.

Democratic state treasurer Seth Magaziner addresses the media and his supporters during a press conference announcing his candidacy for Rhode Island Governor in front of the Henry J. Winters Elementary School construction project in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on September 14, 2021. (Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe)Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Magaziner’s camp initially seemed to think it was above responding to questions about Biden at all, but then decided to plug “strong economy” into their generic quote machine to come up with a promise to “create good-paying jobs, improve public education and invest in clean energy infrastructure.”

“The historic investments that will be possible under President Biden’s infrastructure bill and Build Back Better agenda will resonate with Rhode Islanders if deployed in an effective manner, which is what Seth will do as governor,” Magaziner said.

Former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, a Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Handout DATE UPDATED October 14, 2021, 2:13:31 PM DISTRIBUTOR NAME Handout

Foulkes, a first-time candidate, appears to be getting a lot of the same advice as her already elected opponents, but she at least said it’s time for Biden and the rest of the administration – including commerce secretary and former R.I. governor Gina Raimondo, she noted – to “hit the road to educate Americans about the historic progress he is making.”

“From new roads and bridges, high speed internet, and electric vehicle infrastructure, to affordable child care, housing, and lowering the price of insulin, President Biden’s agenda has the potential to make the lives of all Rhode Islanders safer, more sustainable, more connected, and more affordable,” Foulkes said.


Maybe McKee, Gorbea, Magaziner, and Foulkes all truly believe that Biden’s national numbers aren’t as bad as they look. Or maybe they just didn’t love the question because it took five minutes away from fund-raising calls.

But they should probably know that Biden isn’t exactly scoring off the charts here in Rhode Island, a state he won by 21 percentage points last year.

The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, which has been tracking approval ratings for how the president and governors are handling the pandemic, found that only 51.7 percent of the Rhode Islanders approved of Biden in September, down 8 percentage points from June.

At least Muñoz and Brown, the two candidates who have positioned themselves as progressive outsiders, didn’t rely on the same talking points.

Dr. Luis Daniel MunozEdward Fitzpatrick

Muñoz said Biden has been “more interested in making small concessions” rather than pushing for “popular policy ideas like reforming the double standards in our justice system, healthcare for all, or student debt relief.”

“While polls rarely capture the voice of our working families and marginalized communities, the data we have is clear: the indifference of both federal and state leaders to their plight is eroding our party’s base,” Muñoz said. “If they want to reverse that trend, executives at every level of government must listen to the people and take progressive action.”


Matt Brown

Brown blamed more-conservative Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona for stalling Biden’s agenda, and then turned his attention Rhode Island Democrats for failing to spend $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan funding that has already been sent to Rhode Island.

“It’s been seven months and they haven’t spent a penny,” Brown said. “In fact, Rhode Island is the only Democratic state in the country and the last state in New England not to spend any of its American Rescue Plan funding sent by President Biden.”

It’s a good thing the candidates have something else to do next year because they’d all make pretty terrible campaign managers for Biden.

And if their own campaign strategies are as uninspired as their advice, none of them will have a guaranteed job in January 2023.

Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.