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In a field of opportunists, R.I. congressional candidate Joy Fox offers something different

Joy Fox, Democratic candidate for Congress from Rhode Island's 2nd District.Handout

I’m annoyed that Joy Fox isn’t more annoyed by the opportunists she’s running against in the Democratic primary for Congress in Rhode Island’s 2nd District.

There’s Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who might very well make an excellent congressman, except it’s difficult to get past the fact that he spent seven years planning a campaign for governor until he realized this race might be a little easier to win.

There’s David Segal, a former state representative from Providence who fashions himself as progressive before it became trendy. He’s tried this before. He ran for Congress in 2010, when Patrick Kennedy retired from the 1st District. He lost, spent the next two years trying to talk himself into primarying Congressman David Cicilline (he didn’t), and then mostly disappeared for a decade.

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Oh, and you can’t forget about Sarah Morgenthau. She summers in Rhode Island and her consultants have advised her that you don’t use a straw to drink Del’s, so she’s more than qualified to represent the 2nd District.

They’re all trying to succeed to retiring US Representative James Langevin, who has served Rhode Island honorably for 11 terms and probably could have won another 11 terms if he really wanted to. While these candidates are desperate to get to Washington, D.C., Langevin wants to spend more time here at home, potentially as president of Rhode Island College.

Then there’s Fox, the one credible contender in the Democratic primary who not only has deep ties to the 2nd District, but seems to actually enjoy living there year round.

She was a reporter and editor at the Cranston Herald – the best local newspaper in the district – and then worked in communications for Langevin and former governor Gina Raimondo. Now the 44-year-old runs a public relations business, and yes, she’s working while campaigning, because that’s what people who haven’t been handed everything in life have to do.

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She got in the race because she looked around at the other candidates and saw a field of people who really wanted to be members of Congress because it sounds like a fun job. She learned from Langevin that you have to actually love the job and the people you serve, because most of the work doesn’t happen on cable TV.

Which is why my first question for Fox when we met for coffee last week at the Bagel Express in Pawtuxet Village was why she doesn’t seem very angry that candidates with no real connections to the district are suddenly swooping in to try to win the seat.

“I think there’s a clear choice in this race, and it’s my job to get out there and have conversations with the voters,” Fox told me. She repeated the term “clear choice” four times in the two times we spoke for this column.

That’s not exactly screaming “carpetbagger” from the rooftops, but Fox said she hears from voters and party activists all the time who say they aren’t enthusiastic about voting for people who can’t find Richmond without GPS on their phones.

Fox raised $176,000 in her first quarter as a candidate, a respectable sum but far less than Magaziner ($1.4 million), Morgenthau ($524,000), and Segal ($276,000). She’s ahead of several other Democrats who have also said they are running, including Omar Bah and Michael Neary, the guy who was arrested in March for allegedly menacing an older couple on a highway in Ohio, where he happens to live.

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Because she won’t have the money to run endless campaign commercials all summer long before the Sept. 13 primary, Fox is trying to make up what she lacks in money and organization with sweat equity. She’s been approaching the race like a candidate for City Council, knocking on every door she can and showing up to every event she hears about.

I’d still rather be the candidate with the most money, but Fox’s approach is refreshing. She’s hoping to be the farmer’s market favorite, winning people over every weekend by meeting them one on one, and hoping they tell their friends about her.

You won’t find too many differences among these Democrats – they’re all pro-choice, supportive of stronger gun control laws and action on climate change, and are vehemently anti-Donald Trump. But Fox’s message hits home when she talks about health care. Her father is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and she understands deeply that we as a country need to do better by our caregivers.

She nearly choked up when I asked about how much her father is aware that she’s running for Congress, before joking that he’s asking the same question everyone else is: “How’s your fund-raising going?”

It’s still early in the race, but it sure looks like Magaziner is the favorite right now. He’s got the most money and much of the institutional Democratic support behind him. The winner of the primary is almost certainly going to face former Cranston mayor Allan Fung, who is giving Republicans their best chance at winning a federal race in Rhode Island in more than 20 years.

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Fox acknowledged that a lot of the Democrats she hears from tell her they like her and would definitely vote for her in the general election.

If they don’t want to see Fung win the seat, they might want to consider her in the primary.


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