Some progressives in and out of the mainstream media are making September 12 out to be a great day for progressives in Rhode Island, but that overstates things. Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR), for example, put Representative Moira Walsh’s photo at the top of Scott MacKay’s progressive rah-rag, but that’s making an awful lot out of a 639 vote victory by an incumbent who (I believe) has no other job than representative in a progressive district against a previously unknown challenger whom the news media targeted as a Trump-supporting previous Republican. Michael Earnheart nonetheless collected 521 votes.
I wouldn’t call that result a mandate for progressive activism. A sign of weakness for Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who opposed Walsh, but not a sign of strength for his opposition.
That said, establishment Democrats should be concerned that progressive activist Sam Bell was able to unseat state Senator Paul Jabour in Providence, although they were separated by just 172 votes, and a third candidate took 595. From a long-term perspective, progressives’ losses could be seen as encouraging for them. Forty-three percent of people voting in the Democrat primary chose candidates to Governor Gina Raimondo’s political left, and progressive poster-boy Aaron Regunberg only narrowly lost to the more-moderate Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, 49% to 51%.
Of course, one confounding factor could have been cross-over votes, with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity encouraging conservatives to disaffiliate so they could participate in either primary and vote strategically. Election participation can fluctuate from year to year so as to make such comparisons difficult, but there is some reason to believe cross-over votes were not insignificant.
Congressman David Cicilline won the Democrat primary handily, but would a purely intra-party “anybody but Cicilline” impulse have produced 13,327 votes for Christopher Young? I have my doubts. Even if only 2,400 hundred of these Young voters were non-Democrats who crossed over, that would account for McKee’s victory in the lieutenant governor’s race.
The same dynamic might have played a role on the Republican ticket. Patricia Morgan outperformed expectations, with 40% of the vote, against Allan Fung’s 56%, but a crossover vote of 5,000 would account for all of that. I wouldn’t say that crossovers were that significant, but they probably were a factor, inasmuch as Morgan supporters would have been less likely to abandon the Republican ballot.
Whatever the case, we now move on to the general election, where the biggest question will be whether independent former-Republican Joe Trillo can make this the third governor’s race in a row in which a split vote on the political right allows an unpopular Democrat to slip into the office and conduct the business of the state poorly for four more years.