Rhode Island Primary Draws Interest of Political Scientists; Can a Democrat Win After Agitating Unions?


Political observers are eagerly awaiting the results of tomorrow’s Democratic primary in the race for Rhode Island Governor. That’s because the results will be a case study on what happens when a Democratic candidate runs without much support from labor groups.

Gina Raimondo’s 2011 pension reforms agitated many unions who said the cuts were too steep and the negotiations too one-sided. Most union groups have publicly endorsed Raimondo’s challengers, Angel Taveras or Clay Pell. Reported by Bloomberg:

As U.S. states and cities contend with underfunded worker retirement systems that are crowding out spending for services, roads and schools, the vote is a test of whether a Democrat can challenge unions that have been a pillar of the party’s support and still win at the ballot box.

“It will send a real signal to other politicians about what it means to take on this particular interest group,” said Marion Orr, a political scientist at Brown University in Providence and former head of its Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. “She may be able to pull this off.”

Pensions are an issue in the race because the overhaul was Raimondo’s main achievement since winning election four years ago. Her efforts have led Taveras to portray her as a tool of Wall Street.

Government unions have divided their support between Taveras, who was raised in public housing by his Dominican immigrant mother, and Pell, a former official in President Barack Obama’s Department of Education and husband of Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. All three candidates went to Harvard University.

A recent poll found that 32 percent of Democratic voters would vote for Raimondo; 27 percent of Democratic voters would back Taveras, and 26 percent would vote for Pell.

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