PROVIDENCE — With US Representative James R. Langevin not seeking reelection and Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District seat suddenly up for grabs, attention is turning to the track records of a Democrat and a Republican who have both run and won the district in statewide contests.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, a Democrat, emphasized his electoral success in the district on Wednesday when he announced that he’ll run for Congress rather than for governor. Although he now lives in the 1st Congressional District, he noted he received the most votes in the 2nd Congressional District when he won the 2014 and 2018 races for state treasurer.
Former Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung, a Republican, has not yet announced a run for Congress. But he has a solid track record in the 2nd Congressional District, having received the most votes in the district when he lost the 2014 governor’s race to Gina M. Raimondo, a Democrat. Fung also served for 12 years as mayor of Cranston, the largest city in the district.
Providence College political science Professor Adam S. Myers noted that many candidates are interested in running the congressional seat that Langevin will leave after 22 years in office, and the primaries won’t take place until September. “So a lot of things could change,” he said.
But at this early point, it looks like Magaziner and Fung could emerge as viable candidates for the open seat, Myers said, and that warrants a closer look at their performance in the 2nd Congressional District, which embraces the western half of the state from Burrillville to Westerly.
During his announcement Wednesday, Magaziner argued that he is the Democrat with the best shot because he won the entire district twice before, while other Democrats have only won races in certain cities, towns, or General Assembly districts.
“I believe strongly that we need a candidate on the Democratic ticket who has a track record of winning elections, general elections, districtwide – not just in one community or another but across the whole district,” he said. “We cannot mess around with this seat in this, of all election years.”
In the 2018 treasurer’s race, Magaziner trounced Republican Michael G. Riley, rolling up 61 percent of the vote in the 2nd Congressional District, compared to Riley’s 38.8 percent.
In the 2014 treasurer’s race, Magaziner beat former state auditor general Ernest A. Almonte, who ran as an independent, receiving 53.2 percent of the vote in 2nd Congressional District, compared to Almonte’s 46.6 percent.
Magaziner also won the 2014 Democratic primary for treasurer, topping former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Frank T. Caprio. While a breakdown of the 2nd Congressional District results wasn’t available, Magaziner received 66.5 percent of the statewide vote, compared to Caprio’s 33.5 percent.
“I guess it’s true that Magaziner is tried and tested and has run statewide before,” Myers said. “But in 2018, he was not better or worse than other statewide office holders. My sense is that as long as they are not too objectionable, anyone with a D next to their name is going to perform pretty similarly.”
At a time of increasingly partisan voting patterns, Myers said, “People tend to focus primarily on the party affiliation of the candidates and not as much on their personal characteristics.”
While Magaziner lives in the 1st Congressional District, on Providence’s East Side, Myers said he found no substantial difference in how Magaziner performed in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.
On Wednesday, Magaziner said he only lives about a mile away from the congressional district border, and he committed to moving into the 2nd Congressional District. But he still might face accusations of being a carpetbagger. “A mile away in Rhode Island is like 20 miles away in any other state,” Myers said.
If Magaziner is looking to make a strategic home purchase, he might want to look for “For Sale” signs in Warwick. Myers broke down the percentage of votes cast for president in 2020 in the 2nd Congressional District, and these were the top five cities and towns:
- Warwick: 16.9 percent
- Cranston: 15 percent
- Providence (a portion of the city): 8.9 percent
- Coventry: 7.3 percent
- North Kingstown: 6.4 percent
Fung lost the 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial races to Raimondo, who left the State House in March to become President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Commerce.
But in 2014, he beat Raimondo in the 2nd Congressional District, receiving 40.6 percent of the vote while Raimondo got 36.4 percent.
The X factor in that race was Robert J. Healey Jr., the Cool Moose Party founder who received 21.4 percent, including protest votes from those displeased with both major party candidates and those upset with the Raimondo-led state pension overhaul.
In 2018, Raimondo beat Fung in the 2nd Congressional District, taking 47.2 percent of the vote to Fung’s 42.6 percent.
The X factor in that race was former Representative Joseph A. Trillo, a Warwick Republican and honorary chairman of President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Rhode Island, who waged an independent campaign for governor, getting 4.5 percent of the vote.
In the 2nd Congressional District, 37 percent of registered voters are Democrats, and just 16 percent are Republicans, but 47 percent are unaffiliated.
And Representative Brian C. Newberry, a North Smithfield Republican, said the 2nd Congressional District is more conservative than the 1st Congressional District. He said every Republican in the General Assembly lives in the 2nd Congressional District, except for him, Senator Thomas J. Paolino, and Senator Jessica de la Cruz.
Newberry noted redistricting done 10 years ago shifted the town of Burrillville into the 2nd Congressional District, and while that might have helped Democratic Representative David N. Cicilline in the 1st Congressional District at the time, Burrillville is now one of the most conservative towns in the 2nd Congressional District. In 2014, Raimondo finished third in Burrillville, behind Fung and Healey, he noted.
Also, Newberry pointed out that Cranston and Warwick account for nearly one-third of the vote in the 2nd Congressional District, and Warwick has for years had Republican mayors such as Scott Avedisian and former governor Lincoln D. Chafee. Warwick’s current mayor, Frank J. Picozzi, is an independent.
Former state Representative Robert B. Lancia, a Cranston Republican who lost to Langevin in 2020, is running for the seat again, and de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, is said to be considering moving into the district to run for Congress.
“Allan Fung has an excellent chance of winning if he runs,” Newberry said. “You have to fit the profile that is attractive to independents and some Democrats, and Allan Fung is the very definition of a moderate Republican.”
But as a moderate, Fung would face criticism from the right in a GOP primary, and in the general election, Democrats would try to tie him to former president Donald Trump, leaving him to try to travel a middle ground that was difficult for him to navigate in the 2018 governor’s race.