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ELECTION 2022

R.I. Republicans expect to request recounts in three state legislative races

Election Day results indicate Republicans will lose a seat and end up with 14 of the 113 General Assembly seats, but challenges are coming

Rhode Island State House.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — Republicans expect to request recounts in three state House of Representatives races, Rhode Island Republican Party chair Sue Cienki said Wednesday.

In House District 39, Democrat Megan L. Cotter is clinging to a four-vote lead over Representative Justin K. Price, a Richmond Republican, according to the state Board of Elections. With all six polling places reporting during Election Day on Tuesday, Cotter had 2,989 votes, Price had 2,985, and independent candidate Sean Patrick Comella had 669.

“A win is a win,” Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joseph M. McNamara said. “We have seen it down to one or two votes.”

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For instance, former state Representative William San Bento Jr. won a 2012 primary by a single vote, prompting his colleagues to start calling him “Landslide,” he recalled.

But Cienki said the GOP plans to ask the Board of Elections for a recount in the race for House District 39, which includes Richmond, Exeter, and part of Hopkinton. “Every vote counts,” she said.

Cienki noted that Comella, a Providence police sergeant, received 10.1 percent of the vote, and she said Republicans had worried that he would draw votes from Price. “If you want to take someone out, primary them,” she said of Comella. “But it is what it is.”

Price struggled to raise campaign funds after he “marched to the Capitol” with a violent mob that sought to overturn the presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021, and tweeted conspiracy theories blaming antifascists for the violence.

In House District 21, Representative Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson, a Warwick Democrat, held a 16-vote lead over Republican Marie A. Hopkins.

With all four polling sites reporting, Vella-Wilkinson had 2,579 votes, while Hopkins had 2,563, according to the Board of Elections. But the GOP expects to request a recount, Cienki said.

Hopkins has worked as an acute and criminal psychiatric nurse, and has degrees from Brown University and the University of Rhode Island. Vella-Wilkinson is a former Warwick City Council member and retired Navy officer who sponsored a new law that extends property tax exemptions to veterans who served in uniform during the Cold War.

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In House District 43, Democratic Representative Deborah Ann Fellela holds a 166-vote lead over over Republican Nicola Antonio Grasso.

With all six polling places reporting, Fellela had 2,596 votes, while Grasso had 2,430, according to the Board of Elections. But the GOP expects to request a recount, Cienki said.

Fellela, who was first elected to the House in November 2006, retired in July 2020 after 28 years with the Providence School Department. Grasso is a forensic technician and background investigator in the private sector, and he was chairman of the Board of Federated RI Sportsmen’s Clubs from 2019 to 2022.

Republicans went into Tuesday’s elections hoping to add to the 15 seats they hold in the 113-member General Assembly. But despite hopes of riding a national “red wave” in the midterm elections, it appears the GOP will end up with 14 total Assembly seats, including five in the Senate and nine in the House.

“They did not gain ground,” McNamara said. “We maintained super majorities in the House and the Senate.”

This year, 66 Republicans ran for the 113 Assembly seats, marking a 57 percent increase over the 42 Republicans who ran in 2020.

McNamara said Republicans had a lot of candidates this year, including some good ones, but he described others as “straw dogs that seemed to be just to have a name on the ballot.”

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Cienki disagreed, saying the GOP recruited a lot of “good quality candidates” to run for the first time. “But the reality is, this is a deep blue state, and you have to run twice to win,” she said, adding that many of those candidates have already committed to running again.

On the campaign trail, the GOP had emphasized inflation, education, and crime. But Cienki said the emphasis Democrats placed on abortion rights seemed to resonate with voters, “although it is settled law” in Rhode Island.

Also, the attention that former President Donald Trump drew to himself in the closing days of the campaign might have hurt Republicans in a state as blue as Rhode Island, Cienki said. “(Trump) stuck his head up again at the last minute” by feeding speculation that he’s mounting another bid for the White House, she said.

McNamara maintained that voters responded to the measures passed by the Democratic-dominated Assembly last session. For example, he noted the state budget eliminated the car tax and provided a one-time child tax credit of $250 per child for Rhode Island residents making up to $100,000. “Actions speak louder than words,” he said.

In the Senate, Republicans lost the seat that Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, a Westerly Republican, vacated after 30 years in office. In Senate District 38, Democrat Victoria Gu had 46.1 percent, Republican Westin J. Place had 27.8 percent, and independent candidate Caswell Cooke Jr. had 26.1 percent.

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But Republicans picked up the Senate District 29 seat when Anthony Phillip DeLuca II beat Democrat Jennifer Rourke, a co-founder of the progressive Rhode Island Political Cooperative. They were vying for the seat that Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat, is vacating after 28 years in office.

In the House, Republicans lost the seat that former House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, a Block Island Republican, is vacating. Democrat Tina L. Spears crushed Republican John F. Pacheco III, 61.3 percent to 38.6 percent, in the race for the House District 36 seat Filippi has held since 2015.

Democrats also will pick up a seat if Cotter holds onto her four-vote edge over Price in House District 39.

But Republican Brian J. Rea topped Representative Bernard A. Hawkins, a Smithfield Democrat, by 64 votes, in House District 53. McNamara described that as a “purple district.”

Meanwhile, Democrats lost a seat when independent candidate Jon D. Brien beat Democrat Glenn F. Dusablon by 50 votes in the House District 49 race. That seat is being vacated by Representative Steven J. Lima, a Woonsocket Democrat.

But McNamara noted that Brien is a former Democrat, and he said he expects him to caucus with the Democrats.

“I’m sure like every other rep, he is there to get things done, and that is not by caucusing with the minority caucus that votes against everything,” he said. “He is from the more moderate or conservative side, but we have a lot of colleagues who are conservative on particular issues. There is no litmus test. Our tent is big enough.”

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Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.