There is a very interesting special election today in Rhode Island House of Representatives District #33. I’ll post some thoughts here, and hopefully continue them on Twitter later today.
HD #33 is along the south-central coastline. The vacancy was created back in March when longtime State Rep. Donald Lally (D) resigned to spend more time with his family. Lally was first elected in 1989, so he served almost 14 terms.
The current party breakdown in the Rhode Island House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Democratic: 62 Dems, 11 GOP and 1 Independent.
Lally was unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election in 2014, but when he drew an opponent in the general election in recent years, the voting has been close:
2006 – Defeated Karen Salvatore (R), 52% – 48%
2008 – Received just 39% in a four-candidate field which included a Republican and two independent candidates
2010 – Defeated Philip Duquette (R), 53% – 47%
2012 – Defeated Robert Trager (R), 58% – 42%
There are four candidates on the ballot:
Carol Hagan McEntee (D) is a councilwoman in South Kingstown (one of the two towns comprising the district). She won a three-way Democratic primary on May 5th by less than 75 votes.
Robert Trager (R) was the 2012 nominee against Lally.
C. Elizabeth Candas (I) is a former teacher and businessperson.
James McKnight (I) is a sales manager at a local chemical firm.
President Obama carried the district in 2012 over Mitt Romney, 59% – 39%; however that was with Presidential-level turnout. In 2014, in the down-ballot races of Secretary of State, Attorney General, and State Treasurer, the Democratic candidates averaged only 55% of the vote in the district.
Voter turnout in the May 5 Democratic Primary was less than 12 %. Voter turnout statewide in the 2012 Presidential Election was over 60%.
While Democratic State Rep. Lally was elected and re-elected here multiple times, there are plenty of GOP votes in this district. Furthermore, the Democratic primary just five weeks ago was very closely contested and included an ethics complaint against Susan Cicilline-Buonanno, who finished second. My conclusion? This election will certainly test the conventional wisdom that “low-turnout” special elections favor Republicans, as I will actually be surprised if the Democrats can hold this seat under these conditions.