PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) - General Treasurer Gina Raimondo won the Democratic nomination for governor on Tuesday after a hard-fought and expensive race against the mayor of Providence and a first-time candidate with one of the best-known political names in Rhode Island.
Raimondo comfortably defeated Mayor Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell and husband of Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan. Her victory set up a general election match-up in November against Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who handily won the Republican nomination over businessman Ken Block.
Throughout the campaign, Raimondo, 43, hewed to her message that she will be the “jobs governor” and work with urgency to turn around the state’s sagging economy. She highlighted her work crafting the state’s landmark pension law in 2011 to make the case that she can take on big issues and get results.
Raimondo said Tuesday night, as she had on the trail, that she’s the candidate who will lead a turnaround of Rhode Island and get the economically struggling state back to work.
“That’s what Rhode Island needs: a comeback. We’re not going to cut our way out of this way, and we’re not going to tax our way out of this mess,” she told a boisterous crowd at The Met in Pawtucket, where supporters whistled, cheered and waved signs. “We are going to grow our way out of it.
“We are long past small changes and quick fixes. We can’t keep tinkering around the edges,” she said.
A prodigious fundraiser, Raimondo outraised and outspent both opponents, shelling out more than $5 million.
As the race tightened, Taveras accused Raimondo of being aligned with Wall Street. Pell criticized her handling of the pension overhaul, over which unions and retirees sued. The National Education Association Rhode Island, the powerful teachers union, backed Pell, and his campaign picked up momentum in the final weeks with the help of a TV ad blitz, made possible by an infusion of $3.4 million of the candidate’s own money.
The most immediate task ahead for Democrats is to try to unite after a divisive primary. The state party in June announced it was not endorsing any of the three gubernatorial hopefuls. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said at the time the move was in the best interests of the party, looking ahead to November.
He said Tuesday the party will get behind the nominee.
“Politics is politics,” he told The Associated Press during a stop at a south Providence polling place, where he declined to say who he supported. “There will be party unity. Everybody’s going to come together.”
Raimondo said she spoke with both Taveras and Pell Tuesday night and that her aim is to earn the support of those who voted for them.
“I want to work with them,” she said, adding that Democratic unity “is what we have to work towards.”
Rhode Island has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1992. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who won office as an independent and later switched to the Democratic Party, decided not to seek re-election.
Fung told supporters in Warwick Tuesday night that restoring the state’s economy is the most important issue in the campaign and Rhode Island’s biggest challenge. He said he would create jobs statewide, reduce taxes and improve the business climate.
“Rhode Island is a great place to live,” he said. “Now let’s make it a great place to work.”
Fung, who had the endorsement of the state GOP, touted his experience running the state’s third-largest city and called himself the only real Republican in the race. He criticized Block’s past support for President Barack Obama and his 2010 run for governor as the candidate of the Moderate Party, which Block founded.
Fung and others accused Block of costing the GOP the election that year by siphoning votes from nominee John Robitaille, though Robitaille at the 11th hour threw his support to Block.
One of the most talked-about TV ads in the GOP primary was one aired by Fung that depicted his opponents as “Blockheads.”
On Tuesday, as his supporters chanted his name, he told them: “I can promise you this, on day one of a Fung administration, I will declare Rhode Island open for business.”
Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Providence and Jennifer McDermott in Cranston contributed to this report.
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