PROVIDENCE – The campaign trail has ended and now it’s up to voters to decide the victors.
Polls opened across Rhode Island Tuesday at 8 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m., for those who didn’t take advantage of early or mail-in voting. So far, as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, 54,607 have voted at the polls.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday the early voting count, including mail in-ballots, was 101,557, accounting for 14% of eligible voters. That includes 70,873 people who took advantage of early voting that ended Monday. So far, the R.I. Board of Elections has also received 30,684 mail-in ballots.
Cranston saw the most early voters in the Ocean State, with 4,838 voting in person and 2,969 who have voted by mail.
Nearly 150,000 residents cast their ballots early in-person in the November 2020 general election, accounting for about 30% of the vote.
Voters are deciding Tuesday whether Democratic Gov. Daniel J. McKee will get to serve his first full term in office or if they want a change in leadership and whether the Democratic Party will maintain its three-decade hold on the U.S. House seat being vacated by longtime Democratic Rep. James R. Langevin.
Other races on the ballot include Republican Aaron Guckian and independent Ross. K. McCurdy challenging Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos; Republican Allen Waters is challenging Democrat David Cicilline for the state’s 1st Congressional District seat; Democrat James Diossa and Republican James Lathrop are seeking the office of general treasurer; Democrat Gregg Amore and Republican Pat Cortellessa are vying for secretary of state; and Republican Charles Calenda is challenging Peter Neronha for attorney general.
In the governor’s race, Republican challenger Ashley Kalus often says it’s time to change direction, while McKee says he helped the state’s economy recover from COVID-19 and can continue the momentum.
If elected, McKee would help his party maintain its control over the top statewide offices. All of the posts are currently held by Democrats. He’s seeking his first full term in office after taking over in March 2021 when two-term Gov. Gina M. Raimondo was tapped as U.S. commerce secretary.
Kalus, if elected, would be the state’s first Republican governor since 2011.
McKee, the former lieutenant governor, is a heavy favorite in the liberal state as both a Democrat and incumbent, who was endorsed by a host of large unions. He has tried to differentiate himself from Kalus by talking about how he’s a lifelong Rhode Islander with decades of public service in the state. Kalus is a business owner and political novice who moved to the state last year.
Like Democrats nationwide, McKee also worked to keep abortion rights front and center in the campaign and convince voters that he would champion reproductive rights. McKee ran an ad portraying Kalus as the “anti-choice” politician who would follow the lead of former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, take the state backwards and limit abortion access.
Though Kalus has called herself “pro-life” and said she does not support “taxpayer-funded abortions,” she said the Supreme Court decision will have no impact in Rhode Island because the right to an abortion was codified into state law in 2019 and the vast majority of residents supported that law. She accused McKee of being a “desperate career politician” who was lying because he feared losing.
Kalus is trying to convince voters that McKee is an insider politician who is beholden to special interests. She seized on the fact that the FBI is now investigating the awarding of a controversial state contract and criticized McKee over the approval of public financing for developers. She told voters she would end the “I know a guy system” in Rhode Island and help working families.
Kalus, who owns a COVID-19 testing company that is suing the state over a canceled contract, moved to Rhode Island last year from Illinois and previously worked for former Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. She bought a home in Newport, registered to vote in Rhode Island as a Republican in January and declared her candidacy in March.
With a week to go before the election, profane texts were shared with media outlets that Kalus sent a contractor in 2018 and 2019 in Chicago. Kalus was upset over construction delays and billing disputes when she was opening a new medical office with her husband. Kalus defended the texts to WPRO, saying they show she and taxpayers will not be taken advantage of if she’s elected governor. The McKee campaign said the texts show Kalus is wrong for Rhode Island.
Independent candidates Zachary Hurwitz and Paul Rianna and libertarian Elijah Gizzarelli are also on the ballot.
In the 2nd Congressional race, Rhode Island’s Democratic treasurer, Seth Magaziner, is trying to take Langevin’s place representing the 2nd Congressional District. National Republicans are eyeing the seat as a possible pickup opportunity. Republican candidate Allan Fung, a former Cranston mayor, is well-known in the district and many political observers say the race is a toss-up. Moderate candidate William Gilbert is also on the ballot.
The liberal state is currently represented in Congress by Democrats. All of the top statewide offices are also held by Democrats.
Magaziner has been the state’s treasurer since 2015. He is the son of former Clinton administration policy adviser Ira Magaziner. He said he would protect Social Security and Medicare, work to lower the cost of health care and turn “the page on Trumpism.”
Magaziner said that voting for Fung will empower House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and far-right Republicans to adopt extremist policies because Fung won’t stand up to them. Magaziner has worked to keep abortion front and center in the campaign, promising to fight any attempts to roll back women’s rights.
Fung said he wants to bring back that “brand of moderate Republican leadership.” He projects the image of a New England moderate Republican by comparing himself to another popular Republican in a liberal neighboring state, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. Fung also talks about how he would work with Democrats, pointing to common priorities like investing in infrastructure and creating U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Fung is known statewide, having run for governor twice. He lost both times to Raimondo.
McCarthy visited Rhode Island to raise money for Fung and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited to show his support.
Magaziner has the state’s Democratic establishment behind him and support from national Democratic leaders. U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke at a rally and First Lady Jill Biden campaigned for him.
Magaziner highlighted his successes as treasurer during the campaign, including the strong financial performance of the state pension. He was endorsed by gun safety groups, the RI AFL-CIO and other large unions. He said he would support banning members of Congress from trading individual stocks and support term limits for members of Congress.
(Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.)