PROVIDENCE — Though the Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsed Governor Daniel J. McKee Sunday night, a new Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll shows Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea pulling into the lead in the Rhode Island governor’s race at 24 percent, just ahead of McKee at 20 percent, while former CVS executive Helena B. Foulkes is surging at 16 percent.
The Democratic Primary is scheduled for Sept. 13.
Former secretary of state Matt Brown trails at 5 percent, followed by Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz at 1.4 percent. Nearly a third of voters (31 percent) remain undecided, the poll found.
In early May, a WPRI-12/Roger Williams University poll showed McKee leading at 25 percent, with Gorbea at 23 percent and Foulkes at just 6 percent, placing her behind Brown, who had 7 percent at the time.
The cellphone and landline poll of 800 likely general election voters was conducted June 19 to June 22 by Suffolk, and the margin of error for 353 likely Democratic primary voters statewide was plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.
That means Gorbea and McKee remain within the margin of error as they battle for the lead. But the poll shows that Foulkes is changing the dynamics of the race less than 90 days before the Sept. 13 primary.
“It appears Foulkes has really made a move from the bottom tier,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “Now it’s not a two-person race – it’s a three-person race.”
Foulkes is fueling her surge with a large infusion of campaign cash and TV ads. Her campaign account led the pack at the end of the first quarter of 2022, with $1.5 million in cash on hand, while McKee had nearly $1.1 million, Gorbea nearly $900,000, Brown $79,000, and Muñoz $2,000.
“She must have been looking at the previous poll and her own polling and said, ‘Well, I’m way behind – I have to spend some money and introduce myself.’ And it looks like she is in contention, whereas she was not a month ago,” Paleologos said.
But he said the poll also reveals a significant weakness in Foulkes’ support: Just 3 percent of Black voters and 2 percent of Hispanic voters support her. By comparison, 31 percent of Black voters and 21 percent of Hispanic voters back McKee, and 22 percent of Black voters and 19 percent of Hispanic voters support Gorbea, the poll found.
“The good news for Foulkes is she is now in the top tier, within striking distance,” Peleologos said. “The bad news is strategically there is a flaw in that she has not made even the basic introduction to persons of color in Rhode Island. That tells me that if she did even half-decent among people of color, she could be winning this primary right now.”
But Foulkes could find it difficult to make gains in that area when McKee and Gorbea already enjoy significant support among Black and Latino voters.
The poll indicates McKee has maintained the support Black and Latino support that helped him cling to victory in the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
In that race, McKee held off a progressive challenger, Aaron Regunberg, in part by doing well in areas with significant Latino populations, such as Central Falls and South Providence. And he has been essentially running as a team with Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, a former Providence City Council president who is the first Afro-Latina to hold that post.
But this time around, McKee is facing Gorbea, who would be the first Latina elected governor in New England and the first Puerto Rican-born governor in the US, other than the governor of Puerto Rico itself. The Latino Victory Fund endorsed her in September.
While she and McKee are within the margin of error among Hispanic voters, Gorbea leads among white voters, at 26 percent, followed by Foulkes at 21 percent, and McKee at 19 percent, the poll found.
The poll found McKee is leading among male voters, at 26 percent, compared to 19 percent for Gorbea and 11 percent for Foulkes.
But Gorbea leads among female voters, at 28 percent, compared to 20 percent for Foulkes, and 17 percent for McKee.
Paleologos pointed out that Gorbea is dominant in the state’s 1st Congressional District, which includes an eastern swath of the state stretching from Woonsocket to Newport. The poll found 29 percent of voters support Gorbea in the 1st Congressional District, compared to 18 percent for McKee, and 12 percent for Foulkes.
But it’s a different story in the 2nd Congressional District, where McKee and Foulkes are tied at 22 percent, followed by Gorbea at 19 percent, he noted. And he said that dynamic could help McKee and Foulkes because turnout is bound to high in the 2nd Congressional District, where six Democrats and two Republicans are vying for a rare open congressional seat now that Democratic US Representative James R. Langevin is retiring.
The poll found that 40 percent of voters approve of the job McKee is doing as governor, while 37.5 percent disapprove and 21.5 percent remain undecided. McKee, who had been lieutenant governor, became governor in March 2021 when former governor Gina M. Raimondo was named US secretary of commerce.
Paleologos said the poll results indicate that Brown and Muñoz have a “very difficult path” ahead of them because their support remains in single digits. He said most political observers consider July a tough month for campaigns to grab voter attention, so the candidates don’t have a lot of time left to move their numbers.
The winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary will likely face Republican Ashley Kalus, although Rey Alberto Herrera has also opened a campaign account to run.
- Republican Fung leads in R.I.’s 2nd Congressional District
- Gorbea, McKee, Foulkes at the front in R.I. governor race
- Explore the data: Full results of the Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll of likely Rhode Island voters
- Cost of living is top issue in R.I. governor’s race, but economic downturn is hitting Rhode Islanders hard
- How Rhode Islanders feel about banning assault weapons
- Most Rhode Island voters don’t think President Biden should run in 2024