If Republican Allan Fung does go on to defeat Democratic state Treasurer Seth Magaziner in the race for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District next month, there are two rather annoying storylines that are guaranteed to emerge.
One is whether Fung, the moderate former mayor of a city that voted for Joe Biden by 14 percentage points and Hillary Clinton by more than 15 percentage in the last two presidential elections, is the future of the GOP.
The other is whether Rhode Island Democrats made a horrible mistake in coalescing around the well-funded Magaziner rather than finding a better candidate, if there was one, in the district.
The answer to both questions is a resounding no.
Fung’s eight-point lead over Magaziner, according to a Globe/Suffolk poll released Tuesday, has almost nothing to do with a political party that continues to wrap its arms and legs around former president Donald Trump, and it has even less to do with the quality of his Democratic opponent.
And that’s what is driving Democrats in this state completely bonkers.
Every television commercial and postcard in the mailer that we’re seeing from Magaziner and his supporters focuses on how Fung is on the side of the extremists in the Republican Party, the ones who want a federal ban on abortion or who want to change Social Security.
They’re not necessarily inaccurate.
Fung is the Republican nominee, and some of the most powerful members of his party are downright wacky, or they’ve sold their souls to avoid primaries from the right or tweetstorms from the Trump sycophants who are still allowed on Twitter. There are plenty of people who are supporting Fung because he’s got an “R” next to his name.
But the voters who might carry Fung to victory next month are Rhode Islanders who aren’t as obsessed with Team Blue and Team Red as the partisan consultants want us to believe. They’re deeply concerned, as the poll shows, with the cost of living, and 66 percent of 2nd District voters who say that’s the most important issue in the state are backing Fung.
“No matter how you look at it, the economy is still in the hole,” said David Barishian, a Providence postal worker who took the Globe/Suffolk poll last week and told me on Tuesday that he intends to vote for Democrat Dan McKee for governor and Fung for Congress.
Barishian said he doesn’t pay close attention to politics, but he doesn’t like the negative ads that he has been watching on television. He acknowledged that he wasn’t sure if Fung was still the mayor of Cranston (he left office two years ago) but he remembered that Fung “has a good track record.”
“He’s done a good job as a leader,” Barishian said. “He has what it takes.”
It’s refreshing in a way.
For all the millions of dollars being spent to attack Fung, the message that has actually broken through is that Fung is a relatively likable guy who seemingly did a good job as mayor of Cranston. Magaziner hasn’t done much to poke holes in that narrative, and he hasn’t been helped by Democrats – including Langevin and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer – who keep reinforcing that Fung is nice.
When it comes to negative attacks, Fung is no innocent bystander.
He has sleazy surrogates attempting to smear Magaziner because his father has been linked to Jeffrey Epstein, an all-time horrible individual. They’ve also taken cheap shots at Magaziner’s relatively privileged upbringing, labeling him “silver spoon Seth.”
That’s the kind of immature behavior Fung displayed during two failed campaigns for governor. He should fire the advisors who believe that irrelevant potshots are the key to victory.
Count Regina Harrington as one voter who is fed up with, well, everyone.
Harrington, who grew up in the south and midwest but now lives in Charlestown, told me “the country is ripping itself apart” because the far left and the far right refuse to compromise on anything. When I called her Tuesday afternoon, she wasn’t afraid to let me know that she blames the media just as much as the politicians.
“Everything is geared toward, ‘if you don’t agree with me, you’re evil,’” Harrington said. “And that is completely false.”
But Harrington, who hasn’t yet made up her mind on how she’ll vote in the governor’s race, said she’s supporting Fung over Magaziner because she likes candidates who aren’t “so ingrained in politics and in government that they can’t look at other ways to solve things.”
Of course, one could argue that Fung is even more ingrained in politics than Magaziner, at least based on the length of time both have held elected offices. But perception is reality, and there are some voters who think Fung has successfully repositioned himself as an outsider.
It’s clear that Fung is benefiting from having a Democratic president whose job disapproval is at 52 percent in Rhode Island, and a House and Senate in Democratic control at a moment when many voters are deeply concerned about inflation.
But the reason he has a chance to win the race is even more straightforward.
The voters like him. They really like him.