Powered by the top-spending campaign, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo scored a decisive Democratic gubernatorial victory over her two main rivals Tuesday, in a campaign dominated by debate about Rhode Island's long-suffering economy and the pension overhaul spearheaded by Raimondo in 2011.
Unofficial returns showed Raimondo with 42 percent of the vote, compared with 29 percent for Angel Taveras, and 27 percent for Clay Pell.
Raimondo, 43, used her victory speech at the Met, a music club in Pawtucket, to vow to put Rhode Islanders back to work.
In the GOP gubernatorial primary, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung scored a solid victory over challenger Ken Block, 55 percent to 45 percent.
The scene for Raimondo's campaign-watch was part of the Hope Artiste Village complex where she launched her campaign in January, and her campaign reprised the sound of Canned Heat's "Let's Work Together." The song reflected her move to the left, to cobble together a winning Democratic primary coalition (backing such measures as driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants).
While Raimondo touted her regular credentials as "Gina from Smithfield" during the campaign, the Yale- and Oxford-educated former venture capitalist has built a national reputation since bursting on Rhode Island's political scene by winning the race for treasurer in 2010.
She moved quickly and steadily to shape the battlefield over a sweeping pension overhaul the next year; as a result, opposing the reform in the General Assembly took on a higher perceived political cost, and the measure passed overwhelmingly before being signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Critics seized on the pension overhaul — and revelations about tens of millions in fees paid for hedge fund investments backed by Raimondo — to charge that she was more responsive to Wall Street than to struggling Rhode Islanders.
Taveras, the well-liked mayor of Providence, took up the theme in his campaign by touting himself as the candidate of working families. Raimondo responded by saying she would be a governor for all Rhode Islanders, bringing a more muscular focus to overcoming the state's persistently high unemployment and other chronic problems.
During her 25-minute campaign announcement in January, Raimondo compared her petite frame with Rhode Island's distinction as the smallest of the 50 states.
"Usually when people meet me for the first time, they say, 'Oh, I thought you'd be bigger.' But the truth is, it's because we are small that we can do things that have never been done before," Raimondo said. "But we have to start by thinking bigger and bolder, and it's time to change the tone at the top. We need a tone at the top — a governor with a tone of urgency and focus and possibility as we turn this economy around."
Taveras remained in contention in late August, when a Providence Journal-WPRI poll showed him with 27 percent of the support, compared with 32 percent for Raimondo — a disparity barely larger than the margin of error.
Yet the surprising entry into the race earlier this year of Clay Pell, the grandson of the late Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell, scrambled the dynamic and wound up cutting sharply into the support for Taveras.
Since winning election as mayor of Providence in 2010, the former Housing Court judge emerged with the most consistently high approval ratings in a series of Brown University polls. But Taveras (who raised more than $2 million) lagged in fundraising behind Pell (who loaned himself $3.4 million), and Raimondo, an adept fundraiser who brought in more than $4 million just since April. A union coalition rallied behind Taveras, but that wasn't nearly enough to salvage his campaign.
Raimondo will face Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in the November election.
Fung beat Barrington businessman Ken Block, who in his concession speech, reminded the room of supporters that his campaign offered solutions to the problems facing Rhode Island.
"We did not receive the support of the majority of Republican primary voters today," said Block. "But that does not mean that we just simply go home and stop caring, because I am looking out at a large group of people who care."
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