Rhode Islanders deciding speaker’s fate, state name change

A STATEWIDE ballot question in the Nov. 3, 2020, election asks voters whether to shorten the state's official name to drop the plantations reference. / AP FILE PHOTO/SUSAN E. BOUCHARD
A STATEWIDE ballot question in the Nov. 3, 2020, election asks voters whether to shorten the state's official name to drop the plantations reference. / AP FILE PHOTO/SUSAN E. BOUCHARD

PROVIDENCE (AP) A statewide referendum that would shorten Rhode Island’s official name and the Democratic House speaker’s tight race for reelection are dominating Tuesday’s election in the Ocean State.

A glance at the races and issues Rhode Islanders are deciding:

President

Rhode Island has backed a Republican for the White House only four times in the modern era twice for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, once for Richard Nixon in 1972 and once for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Hillary Clinton won the state by more than 15 points over Donald Trump in 2016. Rhode Island has four electoral votes.

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U.S. Senate

Longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Jack Reed faces Republican challenger Allen Waters, a perennial candidate who mounted earlier unsuccessful campaigns for the state Senate and U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

Reed, first elected to the Senate in 1996, is a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. Rhode Island’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, isn’t up for reelection until 2024.

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House District 1

Democratic Rep. David N. Cicilline, one of Trump’s harshest critics in Congress, faces independents Frederick Wysocki and Jeffrey E. Lemire in his bid for a fifth term. Cicilline, who’s served five terms in the U.S. House, was mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2011, becoming the first openly gay chief executive of a U.S. state capital.

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House District 2

Longtime Democratic Rep. James R. Langevin, the first quadriplegic lawmaker to serve in Congress, is up against Republican former state lawmaker Robert Lancia. Langevin first was elected to the House in 2000. Lancia, a self-described “libertarian Republican,” set his sights on Congress after losing reelection to his Statehouse seat in 2018.

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Statehouse

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, one of Rhode Island’s most powerful politicians, faces a strong challenge from Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung to win reelection to his seat in western Cranston’s 15th legislative district. Voters there backed Trump for president in 2016, and in 2018, Mattiello defeated his GOP opponent by just 329 votes.

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Name change

Rhode Island was incorporated as The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations when it declared statehood in 1790, and voters are being asked to strip the “and Providence Plantations” wording. Although the word “Plantations” in Rhode Island’s name doesn’t specifically refer to a place where slaves labored, the measure’s backers say it’s offensive at a time when the nation is confronting racial injustice.

Rhode Island’s ties to the slavery era are undeniably deep. Merchants from the state played a key role in the transatlantic slave trade, launching more than 1,000 voyages to buy and ship slaves from Africa and the Caribbean.

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Voting

A record number of voters already cast ballots early or by mail, changing the complexion of Tuesday’s election. Elections officials cautioned that results for some races might not be knowable on election night because of expected tabulation delays.

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