JOHNSTON, R.I. — As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Chris Christie has said he would not aim resources at what he calls landslides or lost causes. Campaigning this month for Allan Fung, the New Jersey governor signaled that Rhode Island’s race for governor is neither.
Republicans see an opening in Fung’s campaign against Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, that appears to have surprised even some of them.
‘‘This was not a state that was on our map six months ago,’’ Christie told reporters in Johnston outside Luigi’s restaurant, which is one building over from the town’s Democratic headquarters. ‘‘It is now firmly on our map.’’
Recent polls show Fung, the mayor of Cranston, within several percentage points of Raimondo. Fung posted a campaign finance report showing he had opened a significant, and unexpected, money lead over the treasurer, who excels at fund-raising.
She outraised Fung for the reporting period by 3 to 1, but an infusion of public matching funds left him with some $911,000 on hand as of Oct. 6 compared to her $334,000. The more than $5 million Raimondo spent to win September’s three-way primary represented virtually every last dollar she had. Seeking public funds imposes a cap on what candidates can spend.
Christie said he planned to return to Rhode Island before Nov. 4, and RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said it’s ‘‘very possible’’ the group will run ads there in the home stretch. The governor’s recent visit, part of an effort to elect Republicans nationwide, ‘‘sends a message that this race is competitive, because they’re not going to waste time coming in to states that are not competitive,’’ Fung said in a recent interview.
‘‘We’re right in the mix,’’ he added.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, visited Providence last week, raising more than $50,000 for Fung. The state GOP has gotten money from the national party for get-out-the-vote efforts, though it is a modest $17,000.
‘‘I think you’re seeing this race narrowing and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here,’’ the former Massachusetts governor said.
Rhode Island’s political demographics favor Democrats, who outnumber registered Republicans nearly 4 to 1, but over half of registered voters are unaffiliated. Still, while Democrats hold all but a handful of seats in the state Legislature, Rhode Island has not elected a governor from the party since 1992. Governor Lincoln Chafee became a Democrat in 2013 but won office as an independent.
Fung may benefit from some labor groups’ decision to sit out the governor’s race, largely because of Raimondo’s 2011 pension overhaul. Public-sector unions and retirees are challenging the changes in court.
The AFL-CIO has not been able to round up enough support from its members to give Raimondo a nod. And the state affiliate of the National Education Association, which backed Clay Pell in the primary, is not endorsing. Leaders of both groups have offered personal endorsements instead. NEARI’s Robert Walsh urged members not to take out their anger at Raimondo with a vote for Fung, calling her ‘‘preferable.’’
With just over two weeks to go, Fung continues to campaign on the race’s single dominant issue: the floundering economy.
His mantra is making the state ‘‘open for business’’ and he says his $200 million tax-cut plan will spur growth.