PROVIDENCE — Early efforts to put a contentious end of the campaign in the past and coalesce around the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary got off to an awkward start on Tuesday night when Helena Foulkes’ campaign tried to call the winner, Governor Dan McKee, to concede while he was making his victory speech.
The moment was captured by television cameras.
“Helena wants to talk to you,” Eva-Marie Mancuso, a McKee aide, said.
McKee looked confused at first, then annoyed.
“No, that’s not going to happen,” he said. It appeared she was handing a phone to him. “Eva, that’s not going to happen. Eva, hang up on them.”
The crowd chanted, “Four more years,” and, in one case, “Eight more years.”
“Hang up on them,” McKee repeated, waving his hand.
In unofficial returns, McKee was winning the primary 32.8 percent to 30.1 percent for Foulkes, a former CVS executive. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea was in third with 26 percent.
Foulkes conceded the race, but told supporters gathered with her Tuesday night about the phone call situation.
“I did just try calling the governor, he would not accept my call,” Foulkes said at her campaign event, according to a speech broadcast on TV. “I’m unhappy about that.”
The somewhat sleepy campaign came to a hard-fought end; McKee blamed Foulkes for “pumping opioids” into communities while at CVS, while a last-minute Foulkes ad called McKee the most unpopular governor in America and highlighted an FBI investigation into a government contract.
Defenders of McKee have pointed out that he couldn’t take the call — he was live on television. He also accused the Foulkes campaign of purposefully calling him while he was on stage.
“They must have seen me on TV speaking, and they wanted to interrupt my speech, which I wasn’t willing to do,” McKee told the Globe as he made his way through the Renaissance Hotel ballroom.
Foulkes’ campaign denied that was true. There was in fact some confusion in the ballroom about when McKee was going to speak. At about 10:25 p.m., his campaign said people should wait another 20 minutes or so, and he’d definitely be speaking before 11 p.m. Foulkes’ campaign said they thought he’d be speaking at 11 p.m., pointing to a reporter’s tweet about it. McKee showed up early, walking to the stage before 10:40 p.m.
“Regardless of your political ideology, Helena is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet,” spokeswoman Audrey Lucas said. “She was being gracious.”
McKee and Foulkes spoke by phone late Wednesday morning, over 12 hours after the first attempt, according to Lucas.
“Helena congratulated him on his victory,” Lucas said.
McKee campaign spokeswoman Alana O’Hare said: “They quickly addressed the phone call [Tuesday night] and moved on to have a short but pleasant conversation about moving forward.”
McKee had also spoken with Gorbea.
McKee faces Republican businesswoman Ashley Kalus in the November general election.
In an appearance Wednesday on WPRO — just before McKee and Foulkes eventually connected by phone — Foulkes suggested Rhode Island needed to think about how elections are run. Early voting began before her widely lauded debate performances.
Also, she said: “I think we should step back and ask ourselves, should we really have elections where someone can win with 33 percent of the vote, and that’s it, or maybe there’s ranked choice or runoffs — those are all questions that a lot of smarter people than I will be asking.”
When host Tara Granahan asked Foulkes whether she’d endorse McKee, Foulkes demurred.
“I haven’t made any decisions about that,” she said. “Look, I am a Democrat. I feel very strongly about a woman’s right to choose in particular. I think this race will be very important around that. But questions about endorsements are things that I’ll have to sort through in the next few days.”
This story has been updated with comments from Foulkes spokeswoman Audrey Lucas, additional information about calls between McKee and Foulkes and McKee and Gorbea, and comments from Foulkes in a radio interview.