RI-2: Upset in the Making?

Every election brings upsets, and it is likely that 2022 will yield its fair share.

One such unexpected outcome, however, appears to be unfolding in Rhode Island’s western 2nd District, which, for a time, looked like a seat headed toward collapse.

Early reapportionment predictions suggested that the Ocean State population, hovering just over the 1-million-person mark, could lose one of its two congressional districts.

Rhode Island, like Maine, Montana, and New Hampshire, flirt with at-large status because they are in position to either have the largest single congressional district in the country, as Montana had in the last decade until it was awarded a second seat in the 2020 reapportionment, or holding among the two smallest. In the end, all of the aforementioned states would be awarded two congressional districts, with Rhode Island being closest toward slipping into at-large status.

Survey research suggests that at least one of those potential congressional upsets is brewing in New England. Yesterday, Suffolk University, polling for the Boston Globe newspaper, released the results of their latest Rhode Island survey (10/1-4; 422 RI-2 likely general election voters; live interview), and the results post Allan Fung, the former Mayor of Cranston and a two-time Republican gubernatorial nominee, to a 45-37% advantage over state Treasurer Seth Magaziner (D). This is the fourth consecutive poll that finds Mr. Fung holding the lead. In all of the previous polling releases, the Fung lead is beyond the polling margin of error.

With the Ocean State’s 2nd District rated D+17, according to the FiveThirtyEight data organization, it is unusual to see a Republican candidate doing so well in a state where Democrats dominate. From time to time, however, this state does elect Republicans irrespective of the historical voting trends.

For starters, three of the last seven Rhode Island Governors have been Republicans. In the House, 1st District Republicans last elected a GOP Congressman in the person of Ron Machtley, who served three terms in the late eighties and nineties. In the 2nd District, former Rep. Claudine Schneider was elected five times throughout the 1980s. Democrats, with the exception of Sen. John Chafee (R), and his son, Lincoln, have dominated the US Senate seats. The Chafees’, however, served a combined 30 Senatorial years. After his defeat in 2006, Lincoln Chafee was later elected Governor as an Independent, but then joined the Democratic Party before his term ended.

With Rep. Jim Langevin (D-Warwick) retiring this year after serving what will be 22 years in office at the end of the current Congress, Republican Fung appears positioned to score an upset victory in November and become the outgoing Congressman’s immediate successor.

The former Mayor and GOP gubernatorial nominee positions himself as a centrist Republican, just like all of his fellow party members who have served in an elective office before him. To score the upset, however, Mr. Fung must get past state Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who easily won the Democratic congressional primary.

Mr. Magaziner was originally a gubernatorial candidate but changed races when Rep. Langevin announced his retirement. Because Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was appointed US Commerce Secretary and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee (D) assumed the Governor’s position, several Democrats challenged him for the party nomination, believing he was a weak candidate. Gov. McKee survived the challenge, but with only 33% of the vote in a crowded field.

Seeing a clear opportunity to win the House seat, Mr. Magaziner left the Governor’s race, where his chances were much more tenuous, and hopped into the open US House campaign.

While he correctly perceived little stood in his way toward winning the Democratic primary, he did not foresee how rocky his general election victory path would become. Certainly, Mr. Magaziner did not perceive himself as an underdog from a D+17 congressional district. With less than a month to go until the general election, however, it appears an underdog is exactly what Mr. Magaziner has become.

With all four publicly released polls giving Mr. Fung leads of between six and 15 percentage points, the open RI-2 campaign has become a significant race, and one that has a role in determining whether the Republicans wrest the House majority away from the Democrats. Though clearly not over, it appears a surprising final outcome from Rhode Island’s western CD may be in the offing.

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