CRANSTON – For Ashley Kalus, the challenge of Tuesday was simple: remind people there’s a Republican primary for governor.
She was, indeed, on the ballot, facing Jonathan Riccitelli, of Exeter, who has been arrested and admitted to criminal offenses ranging from obstructing police officers to assault. The race hasn’t gotten much attention. Kalus’ campaign spending has dwarfed Riccitelli’s, and the Republican Party apparatus is openly supporting Kalus, a businesswoman who lives in Newport.
Kalus won handily, garnering 83.7 percent of the vote. She already has an eye on November, when, assuming she wins, as expected, she’ll face the winner of the Democratic primary.
Or as she puts it as she makes her case outside the Daniel D. Waterman Elementary School in Cranston: “When the polls close, we will know whatever insider and career politician comes out” of the Democratic side.
”The real question is, does Rhode Island want change?” Kalus said. “Or do we want to continue down the same path that really hasn’t delivered results to Rhode Island?”
Kalus was surrounded by signs and volunteers for Democratic, not Republican, candidates on Pontiac Avenue in Cranston Tuesday afternoon. But Kalus, who arrived in a 35-foot-long RV emblazoned with her picture and campaign messages, will have to make inroads in Democratic-heavy Rhode Island if she’s going to win the governorship.
At one point Tuesday afternoon, as rain started to drizzle, she introduced herself to a campaign staffer for David Segal, a progressive congressional candidate, who seemed surprised.
”I’m not the type of person who won’t say hello,” Kalus said with a smile.
Nicole Renzulli, a Republican Cranston councilwoman, said it’s this sort of personable, hands-on, moderate approach that could win the governorship for the GOP. Renzulli is up this year for re-election but doesn’t have a primary Tuesday.
”They like that she’s a real person,” Renzulli said. “A mom, a woman, a business owner – I think they really like that about her. And that she’s out here talking to people.”
Rhode Island Democrats have yet to pick their nominee for governor, but a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association has already launched an ad attacking Kalus.
“Republican Ashley Kalus recently moved to Rhode Island,” the ad says. “It shows.”
The ad also takes aim at Kalus’s stance on reproductive rights, quoting a clip from a TV interview in which she described herself as pro-life and saying that she would not have supported the 2019 Reproductive Privacy Act, which aims to protect abortion rights in the state. “But Kalus, backed by anti-choice extremists, wouldn’t have signed that law,” the ad says. “Ashley Kalus. Out of State. Out of Touch. Anti-Choice.”
The ad was paid for by Alliance for a Better Rhode Island, a political action committee funded by the Democratic Governors Association, which pumped $350,000 into the PAC on the eve of the primaries.
“We see that they are already attacking me,” Kalus said of the ad earlier in the day, while she at the Nathan Bishop Middle School polling site in Providence. in a 35-foot-long RV emblazoned with campaign messages. “It’s very early for an attack ad.”
In a tweet, Kalus said, “The D.C. insiders and elites are already attacking me on television on behalf of Governor (Daniel) McKee. They are obviously scared. They want to distract you from McKee’s failed record.”
Regarding abortion rights, Kalus said, “I’ve been very clear: The right to an abortion was codified in state law, so nothing will change in my administration. And that’s the truth. So I don’t know why they are running an ad that is misleading and false, because I’ve been very clear and on the record about that.”
Since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many Democratic legislators have been pushing for the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which would provide for abortion coverage in the health insurance of Medicaid recipients and state employees.
If she becomes governor, Kalus said she would not sign that bill. “Like a majority of Rhode Islanders, I don’t support late-term abortions or taxpayer-funded abortions,” she said.
Kalus went into primary day with $549,424 in her campaign account – more than any of the Democratic candidates, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections seven days before the primary.
Former CVS executive Helena Buonanno Foulkes had $130,864 in cash on hand, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea had $114,629, McKee had $86,776, former secretary of state Matt Brown had $43,996, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz had $996.
Still, Kalus says she’s ready for the attack line.
”When insiders have nothing to say,” she said, “they call you an outsider.”
This story has been updated with material from additional interviews with Kalus, and with results from the primary election.