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Your one-stop guide to primary day in Rhode Island

Edward Fitzpatrick/Globe Staff

What are you hearing out there?

It’s finally primary day (some candidates have literally been waiting eight years for this day), and there are plenty of matchups to watch. Polling places opened at 7 a.m., and they’ll close at 8 p.m.

The Globe will have all of the results and plenty of analysis tonight, but here’s a primer on some of the key storylines we’re following.

How real is Helena-mentum?

If the Democratic primary was two months ago, there’s a good chance Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea would have won. If it was two weeks from now, there’s a good chance Helena Foulkes would run the table. But the primary is today, and the candidates have known that all along. So where do things stand?


Governor Dan McKee has run a steady campaign that builds on his traditional base in the Blackstone Valley with strong support from many public employee and labor unions, and that’s what has made him the betting favorite heading into today. But Foulkes appears to have all the momentum in the race thanks to two fairly convincing wins in the televised debates, a handful of prominent endorsements, and some late slip-ups from Gorbea. Still, it’s hard to completely count out the secretary, who has been at or near the front of the pack for months.

Two big questions today: What’s the turnout (especially if it’s raining), and what percentage of the vote will former secretary of state Matt Brown and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz get?

McKee would seem to benefit from lower turnout because his base is solid, and Foulkes seems likely to benefit from a larger turnout. Brown and Muñoz aren’t going to win, but if they combine for more than 10 percent, we could be looking at a primary winner who gets somewhere south of 35 percent of the total vote.


The winner will take on Republican Ashley Kalus, independent Paul Rianna, and Libertarian Elijah Gizzarelli in the general election.

What’s the winning coalition in Providence?

The Democratic primary for governor might be the main event, but the matchup of the day comes in the Providence mayoral race between Brett Smiley, Gonzalo Cuervo, and City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune. The next mayor will be decided today because there is no Republican or independent running in the general election.

Smiley and Cuervo are considered the frontrunners, and they’re each piecing together unlikely coalitions. Smiley appears to have strong support on the East Side, and he’s hoping a combination of older and slightly more conservative white voters coupled with just enough support on the South Side puts him over the top. Meanwhile, Cuervo is attempting to piece together Latinos and energetic progressive voters (with little support on the East Side) to win the race.

LaFortune hasn’t had the money or relationships in this race, but she wins over voters every time she meets them. She was already going to be a major factor in this race, and now she’s hoping a late endorsement from the Providence Teachers Union gave her the momentum she needs to pull off the surprise of the night.

How close is the treasurer’s race?

If politics were professional wrestling, the treasurer’s race would traditionally be defined as the “popcorn match” – where fans get up to buy food and use the restrooms while guys they’ve never heard of duke it out in the ring. But this year’s Democratic primary for treasurer is an all-out brawl, and no one seems to have a great feel for who wins between former state commerce secretary Stefan Pryor and former Central Falls mayor James Diossa.


The stakes are high in this race, and the treasurer’s office has been a real launching pad in Rhode Island. Current Treasurer Seth Magaziner is the likely Democratic nominee for Congress in the 2nd district, Gina Raimondo went from treasurer to governor and now US commerce secretary, and Frank Caprio went from treasurer to being the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 (Lincoln Chafee won that year).

The winner will take on Republican James Lathrop in the general election.

Will there be a leadership shakeup in the House or Senate?

There are loads of interesting General Assembly races across the state today, but the two races that could have massive ramifications are the challenges to House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

It’s unlikely that Shekarchi loses to progressive Jackie Anderson in Warwick because Shekarchi has taken the race quite seriously (he’s going to spend somewhere around $100,000), and he hasn’t given voters a reason to show him the door. The speaker is always going to be at risk of facing statewide scrutiny, but Shekarchi still benefits from being seen as Joe from Warwick as opposed to the most powerful political villain in Rhode Island.

Ruggerio has a different challenge. His main opponent is Lenny Cioe, but a third candidate, Stephen Tocco, has been running anti-Ruggerio ads on WPRO radio). Cioe gave Ruggerio a run for his money two years ago, but redistricting magically cost him a big chunk of the Providence neighborhoods he won in 2020. Now it’s almost entirely a North Providence seat, which would seem to benefit Ruggerio. Still, Cioe is energetic and good at door-knocking, so you can’t count him out.


This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.