In the final leg of the race for the new chairmanship of the Rhode Island Republican Party, three of the four remaining candidates squared off at the Providence GOP Chair Candidates Forum on Monday night. Sue Cienki, Rep. Robert Lancia, and Rebecca Schiff made their best pitches to members of the city committee in a hotly contested race. Michael Veri, also running, was unable to attend because he is deployed as part of his service in the U.S. Army Reserve. Multiple sources within the Republican Party say that the race is too close to call. The convention will be held on Saturday, March 30th at the Providence Marriott. Check-in for the convention begins at 9:00 am with call-to-order at 10:00am. Multiple rounds of voting are expected.
Cienki, former chairwoman of the East Greenwich Town Council and attorney, is seen as the more favored choice among conservatives within the party. While some Republicans have expressed concerns about the defeat of multiple conservative East Greenwich elected officials to radical Progressive forces, Cienki had this to say, “Not enough people ask me exactly happened in East Greenwich. I will tell you this: Failure is my fuel. We failed to get re-elected in East Greenwich. Why? Because, we let the other side control the narrative. I will never let that happen again.”
Of the remaining candidates, Cienki and Veri have been endorsed by the state’s Republican legislators. Former state representative Ken Mendonça was also endorsed, but has dropped out of the race.
Lancia, a former Navy chaplain and 100% disabled vet who also served as the State Rep. for District 16 in Cranston, made a principled case for his election. Lancia said that he envisions a Republican Party that is seen as less about selfishness and more about selflessness. He wants the party to expand outreach to minority communities. He argued that it is a question of effort and focus, and that he has excelled at bringing in people that do not fit the stereotypes into GOP politics.
Schiff is a professor at the prestigious Naval War College, two-time losing candidate for the General Assembly, and small business owner. If elected, Schiff plans to survey Rhode Island Republicans to see where they stand on the issues. She has faced harsh questions for her pro-right to abortion stance, former opposition to President Trump, and financial support of an anti-second amendment Progressive candidate in Massachusetts. Schiff has responded to criticism with clear answers about her positions, and points to her fundraising experience as a qualification for GOP chair.
Schiff has been endorsed by Mayor Allan Fung.
Near the close of the meeting, Rhode Island Young Republican Chairman Matthew Martinez asked, “As the newly elected chairman of the Young Republicans, I want to create an environment where people are proud to be Republicans. In order to do that we need a greater sense of unity in our party. This is a question for all of the candidates. If you are not elected party chair, which of your fellow candidates would you support for chair? And, ‘I will be elected’ is not an answer. Thank you.”
Martinez, a strong millennial conservative, was unanimously elected chairman of the YRs last Saturday.
Out of the three candidates present at the debate, only Lancia answered his question directly. He said that he would put his support behind either Sue Cienki or Michael Veri for the chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party. Cienki and Schiff both dodged the question by saying all the candidates were qualified.
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Co-chair of the Providence Republican City Committee, William Ricci expertly moderated the forum in front of a large and diverse crowd. After the event, he tweeted, “Thank you to everyone who attended the Providence GOP RIGOP Chair Candidates’ Forum tonight, esp. to the 3 Chair candidates. Great questions and answers! Thanks, Projo & WPRI for covering it. See all on Saturday morning!” Ricci, well known for his in-depth knowledge of party politics, is also the RI GOP Secretary and is favored to win re-election.