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What does Seth Magaziner need to do to win the Rhode Island Governor’s Race?

Dan McGowan | Boston Globe >>

It’s easy to understand why Seth Magaziner has been considered one of the front-runners for the 2022 Democratic nomination for Rhode Island governor ever since he was elected state treasurer eight years ago.

Despite holding a sleepy office, he’s built a solid political resume over the years, making far more friends than enemies while amassing the largest campaign war chest in Rhode Island. Add in a sterling educational background (undergraduate at Brown University, MBA at Yale) and a family relationship with the Clintons, and you’ve got all the makings of an ideal candidate.

Then Dan McKee became governor, and things got complicated.

McKee’s ascent from lieutenant governor to governor earlier this year when former governor Gina Raimondo joined the Biden administration disrupted Magaziner’s plans. Rather than having an open seat for governor next year, McKee would enjoy all the money, power, and respect that comes with incumbency.

But McKee had a difficult August, and September has been even worse. He waffled on mask mandates in schools, his chief of staff was forced to resign, and he’s now facing questions about a $5 million contract his administration gave to a politically connected consulting firm. At this point, Tim White from Channel 12 is in his nightmares.

“Dan McKee has come back to the pack,” said veteran pollster Joe Fleming. “He separated himself early but in the last month or so, it’s been more negatives than positives.”

On the surface, those issues alone probably aren’t enough to cost McKee his job. But they have created an opening for Magaziner, 38, to sell himself as a fresh-faced alternative to McKee, who just turned 70.

Magaziner officially launched his campaign on Tuesday, joining McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and Luis Daniel Muñoz as the Democrats currently running for the job. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and former secretary of state Matt Brown are also considering entering the race, and former CVS executive Helena Foulkes is believed to be eyeing a run as well. It’s unclear whether the Republicans will put up a viable candidate in the race.

Fleming said that polling he’s done over the years shows most Rhode Islanders have little understanding of what the state’s general officers do or where they stand on issues, and the treasurer’s office hasn’t been quite as high profile as it was in 2011 when Raimondo held the job. Remember pension reform?

But Magaziner can point to impressive investment returns in the pension system to show that he has responsibly invested a lot of public retirement money during his seven years on the job. And he has wisely picked popular issues to take positions on — like helping lead the state’s effort to repair school buildings in almost every city and town.

Now that he’s a candidate for governor, he’ll be required to weigh in on thornier topics.

How would he handle the state takeover of Providence schools? What’s the plan for building more affordable housing? Should the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights be reformed or repealed? How do you prepare the workforce for a post-pandemic world?

Fleming noted that a lot of the candidates in the race are chasing the same vote, whether it’s from labor, progressives, or the business community. And while McKee has never been considered the ideal candidate for liberals, he has made inroads since becoming governor.

The good news for Magaziner is that he’s as comfortable talking with the Chamber of Commerce as he is with the AFL-CIO, and he’s got progressive credentials as well. In some ways, he’s like a less controversial version of Raimondo.

He starts in a good place. With $1.5 million in his campaign account, a solid campaign manager in Katie Nee, and a team that includes veteran ad man Tad Devine, he would probably be the favorite right now if McKee wasn’t the incumbent.

If McKee continues to stumble, Magaziner stands to benefit more than anyone in the race. But with a year to go before the primary, the race remains wide open, according to Fleming.

“It’s just so early,” Fleming said.

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