- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - After outraising and outspending two primary opponents to win the Democratic nod for Rhode Island governor, Gina Raimondo found herself in an unfamiliar spot in the general election: way behind in the money chase.

The state treasurer had shelled out more than $5 million, and her campaign account was dry. Meanwhile, her Republican opponent, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, received a lifeline of $1.1 million in public matching funds.

“Clearly, he started with a huge advantage financially,” said Raimondo, a skilled fundraiser who had about $2.5 million on hand for her gubernatorial bid even before formally announcing it.

Raimondo heads into the final week of the race the front-runner; a new Brown University poll had her up 42 to 31 percent, with 9 percent for Moderate Party candidate Robert Healey and 18 percent undecided.

Still, Republicans are buoyed by what they see as an opening to score an upset. Fung’s chances caught the eye of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, who flew in this month to lend a hand.

Raimondo’s campaign is continuing its sharp focus on the economy and her plans for job creation, particularly in advanced manufacturing and areas like marine science and food science where she says the state already has competitive advantages. She also wants to make big investments in infrastructure and tourism. She portrays Fung’s $200-million tax-cut plan as reckless, saying it would double the state’s already sizeable projected budget deficit.

“His plan is, if you just cut across the board, then magically jobs will appear,” she said in a recent interview. “That is a failed economic theory. It has failed Rhode Island, and Republican governors that are trying it all over the country are failing.”

Fung says he never hears Raimondo talk about cuts at all.

“How are we going to be able to afford some of these programs?” he said, adding that her plan sounds like a “tax-and-spend liberal agenda.”

That’s hardly the criticism that has given Raimondo the most trouble. Progressive Democrats opted not to endorse her, calling her a “Wall Street Democrat” and her economic policies “unacceptably conservative.” Some firefighters protested outside a fundraiser she held in Warwick last week.

Raimondo’s landmark 2011 overhaul of the public pension system - her biggest achievement - angered one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies: unions. Many labor groups have since fallen in line behind her after opposing her in the primary, but there are notable exceptions. The best the state AFL-CIO and National Education Association could do for her were personal endorsements from President George Nee and Executive Director Robert Walsh Jr., respectively.

“I think it should help; I hope it helps,” she said of their support. She said she understands the “residual anger” over the pension changes, which are being challenged in court, but that the message Nee and Walsh are trying to send is that the state “can’t afford Allan Fung.”

The candidates will report their finances again before Nov. 4. The most recent filings showed Fung with $911,000 on hand to Raimondo’s $334,000, even after she outraised him nearly 3 to 1 for the period Sept. 2 to Oct. 6. She didn’t seek public financing, which comes with spending caps.

Some of the money gap could be closed with help from the independent expenditures that are now flooding the race. Aided by contributions from Texas billionaire John Arnold, the pro-Raimondo American LeadHERship PAC this month reported expenditures of $270,000 for an anti-Fung ad. The group Alliance for a Better Rhode Island has reported spending $287,000 so far opposing Fung, with donations from the Democratic Governors Association and Women Vote, which is affiliated with Emily’s List, a group that backs female candidates who support abortion rights. Those two organizations have pumped a combined $719,000 into the Alliance.

Ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PAC has said it also plans to run ads in the state on Raimondo’s behalf, though the size of the buy isn’t clear.

Republicans are not ceding the airwaves, however. An Ohio-based group called the Mid America Fund, backed in part by the Republican Governors Association, last week reported an expenditure of just over half a million dollars to try to defeat Raimondo. That ad focuses on her support for repaying the bonds that financed the failed 38 Studios deal.

Last week, first lady Michelle Obama put out a video message and fundraising appeal on behalf of Raimondo, who would be the state’s first female governor, and plans to attend a get out the vote rally with her on Thursday in Providence.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, one of her former primary rivals, recently hosted a fundraising breakfast for her.

“I’m not worried,” Raimondo said. “We’ll have the money to be competitive.”



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