PROVIDENCE — On Monday night, Republican congressional candidate Allan W. Fung broke his silence about a visit two days earlier by US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy, a California Republican, came to Rhode Island over the weekend to raise money for Fung, a former Cranston mayor, drawing sharp criticism from Democratic candidates in the 2nd Congressional District and highlighting GOP hopes of turning a blue seat red.
McCarthy, a California Republican, tweeted a photo of himself smiling and standing next to Fung on a green lawn with the ocean behind them. “Great day with a great candidate,” he wrote. “Let’s turn #RI02 red @AllanFungRI.”
Great day with a great candidate. Let’s turn #RI02 red @AllanFungRI. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/ZdURkuWG33— Kevin McCarthy (@kevinomccarthy) August 6, 2022
Fung and his campaign did not return calls for comment over the weekend. And Fung did not post any photos of McCarthy on Twitter.
But at 8 p.m. Monday, Fung issued a statement, saying, “Over the weekend, I welcomed Leader Kevin McCarthy to Rhode Island for his first visit. I introduced him to business owners of all political persuasions – including Democrats and Independents – who told him straight out that for the first time in their lives they were going to vote Republican because the policies that have pushed inflation to 40-year highs are absolutely killing their businesses - their American dream.”
Fung said that if elected he “won’t always be with the mainstream” of the Republican Party on some issues, and he plans to “work really hard across all party lines and across ideological spectrums.” But he said McCarthy “expects nothing less than to put my constituents first, and said publicly he’s going to make sure I’m on the most important committees to do the most good for those of us here at home.”
Fung’s initial silence about McCarthy’s visit shows that McCarthy’s support represents a “double-edged sword” for Fung, Providence College political science Professor Adam S. Myers said Sunday.
“Certainly, when the leader of the House Republican caucus comes to visit your district, that is a sign that the national party has taken a major interest in your race,” he said. “It means money and other sorts of resources that the national party can funnel your way.”
But the McCarthy visit also provides Democrats with an opportunity to emphasize that while Fung will present himself as a moderate Republican, he will be part of a national party whose leaders have very different priorities than Democratic House leaders, Myers said. For example, House Republicans could back legislation for a national abortion ban following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, while Democrats would oppose such a measure, he said.
The 2nd Congressional District is more Democratic than Republican, Myers said. “And given how nationalized politics has become in America, it’s increasingly difficult for congressional candidates who might want to separate themselves from the national party,” he said.
Fung wants to fashion himself as a “traditional Northeast Republican” who is more moderate than the national GOP, and he wants to focus attention on President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and inflation, Myers said. But McCarthy’s visit reminds people that the choice is between electing a Republican or a Democrat to one of Rhode Island’s two congressional seats, he said.
Fung is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat that Democratic US Representative James R. Langevin is vacating after 22 years in office, and his candidacy is giving the GOP hope of flipping a seat that has been held by Democrats since 1991.
A recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll showed Fung leading against each of the Democratic candidates. In the closest matchup, Fung led General Treasurer Seth Magaziner 44.9 percent to 38.5 percent.
From the outset, Magaziner has hammered away at the point that Fung’s first vote in Congress would be to make McCarthy speaker of the House.
In a statement, Magaziner campaign spokeswoman Patricia Socarras teed off on McCarthy’s visit to the Ocean State.
“MAGA Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy supports privatizing Social Security, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and passing a national abortion ban,” she said. “The fact McCarthy is campaigning for Allan Fung in R.I. confirms what we already knew – Fung and the extremists Republicans would be a disaster for Rhode Island seniors, Rhode Islander workers, and Rhode Island women.”
Other Democratic candidates blasted Fung over the McCarthy visit.
Sarah E. Morgenthau’s campaign manager, Bryan McNamara, said, “Allan Fung is rolling out the red carpet for Kevin McCarthy and his radical far-right agenda, proving once again he is out-of-touch with the voters of the Second District.”
Morgenthau said, “With Roe v. Wade repealed and our fundamental rights under attack, I draw the best contrast with Allan Fung, both as a woman and as the only candidate with experience delivering results in Washington.”
Democratic congressional candidate Joy Fox said Fung spent the weekend “grinning for photos at a fundraiser with Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader who voted against both an assault weapon ban and the right to birth control in the last three weeks. Meanwhile, I was out knocking on doors and listening to voters. He can try to wave it away, but voters judge us by the company we keep.”
Democratic congressional candidate Omar Bah called McCarthy a “Trump sycophant who will do whatever is necessary to regain power.”
“Regardless of whether Republicans win control of the House of Representatives, the ‘Trump-publican’ Party – with McCarthy as one of their main henchmen – will continue to be a radical right-wing, anti-democratic institution,” Bah said. “By seeking McCarthy’s endorsement, Allan Fung has demonstrated his willingness to support the radical, fascist agenda of Trump and McCarthy.”
Democratic congressional candidate David A. Segal said, “Few better represent the false populism that’s being purveyed by the Republican Party than McCarthy himself, who leads them as they do the bidding of the world’s biggest corporations – while pretending to care about everyday people. The best way to beat Republicans, here and everywhere, is to nominate candidates with genuine records of pushing back against corporate special interests and making gains for working families.”
Meanwhile, National Democratic Congressional Committee spokesman James Singer retweeted the photo of Fung and McCarthy, saying, “Can make a promise: Democrats will make sure voters see this photo again and again #ri02.″ He called that image a “worthy sequel” to a photo of Fung wearing a Trump hat.
But Rhode Island Republican Party chairwoman Sue Cienki said McCarthy’s visit shows that the national party is paying attention to Rhode Island and is willing to invest money and staff in helping Fung win. She said the Rhode Island has not seen similar visits from national Republican leaders in recent congressional election cycles.
“There is real sense that the House is going to swing to Republican, and polling suggests that Allan is in a good spot to win this race,” Cienki said. “Allan has a record of doing exceptional things in Cranston as mayor, and he is the right person to take on this roll in Congress.”
As for the Democratic criticism of McCarthy’s visit, she said, “News flash: Whether Allan is elected or not, Kevin will be speaker of the House come November.”
This article has been updated to include statements from Allan Fung.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.