Rhode Island and Hawaii both claim to be the most Democratic states in the nation. The party enjoys a 4 to 1 voter registration advantage and they have veto proof majorities in both houses of the Rhode Island legislature. John McCain received 35% of the Rhode Island vote in 2008, while George W. Bush claimed 32% in 2000 and 39% in 2004. Nevertheless, Rhode Island has elected Republican Governors for the past 16 years. This GOP streak may come to an end this year because the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is trying to steal the GOP platform.
Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) has a low approval rating and is not running again because of term limits. In the three way race to succeed him, State Treasurer Frank Caprio (D) has recently moved ahead and now has a small lead. Caprio faces former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee who is running as an Independent, and a Republican candidate who will be selected in the September 14th primary.
The Republican Party has endorsed John Robitaille, a former gubernatorial aide, as its official candidate and he describes himself as a conservative. He faces a primary with former State Rep. Victor Moffitt. Both GOP candidates are running far behind the Democrats in fundraising, but Republicans are emphasizing the GOP rising tide throughout the nation and they have erased large deficits in the past. Gov. Carcieri was trailing Myrth York (D) by a large margin in the summer of 2002 but was still able to win.
Robitaille, 62, has never held elective office and was defeated in his 2006 bid for the state legislature. He says “I am an optimist, and I believe people are going to vote out the taxers and spenders. The citizens will wake up and will vote to basically save this state.” He wants to significantly reduce the size of state government by merging departments and firing employees. He says the state can no longer afford to spend so much on social services and hopes to outsource activities such as the Division of Motor Vehicles. Similar to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), he says “We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.”
Prior to the most recent poll, Chafee had been in the lead. Chafee and his father both served in the U.S. Senate as liberal Republicans. When Senator John Chafee died in October of 1999, his son was appointed to serve out his unexpired term by the GOP Governor. Lincoln Chafee faced a social conservative in the 2006 GOP Senate primary and survived by a narrow 53% to 47% margin. He was defeated in the general election by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D).
Chafee then said he was glad Democrats captured the Senate and days later he left the Republican Party. In 2008 he endorsed Barack Obama for President. Chafee is best remembered as the only Republican Senator to oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was one of two Republicans who opposed the 2001 Bush tax cuts. He now wants them to expire. Chafee has always been generous to public employee labor unions and has the endorsement of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
While Chafee, 57, was an Obama booster, Democratic nominee Caprio was for Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton visited the state last month on his behalf. Caprio is considered a moderate Democrat and his platform calls for budget reductions. He clinched the Democratic nomination when Attorney General Patrick Lynch pulled out of the primary on July 15th. Caprio, 44, is a Harvard graduate, an attorney, and served 16 years in both houses of the Rhode Island legislature. His rhetoric is far more conservative than Chafee, and he often sounds like a Republican. Caprio frequently mentions his efforts to phasing out the state’s capital gains tax. This allows Rhode Islanders to have the nation’s lowest tax rate on stock and real estate profits.
Chafee wants to increase the sales tax but Caprio says he will make a no new taxes pledge. Caprio says “I hear that message from the small business community loud and clear. We already pay enough in taxes. I’ll do everything I possibly can as Governor to stand in the way of, or hold the line on tax increases. Tax increases are not what’s going to put the wind at the back of small businesses or help struggling families. We can’t afford to take money out of their pockets.” Republican Governors made sure sales and income taxes did not increase over the last 16 years, but property taxes have increased significantly.