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Raimondo emerges as a conservative darling

April 3, 2012

While General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has taken a step back of late on Rhode Island’s public stage, her profile continues to grow as a favorite of out-of-town conservatives.

Raimondo was lionized as “The Democrat who took on the Unions” in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal late last month. Interviewer Allysia Finley’s admiring tone overlooked some inconvenient complexities.

So this is Gina Raimondo? The state treasurer who single-handedly overhauled Rhode Island’s pension system and has unions screaming bloody murder? I had imagined her a bit, well, bigger. If not larger than life like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, then at least life-size. Ms. Raimondo couldn’t be much taller than five feet, which may have caused some to underestimate her. That isn’t the only thing that may have surprised people.

Finley goes on to call Raimondo “a greater threat to the labor movement than any Republican” since she’s a Democrat who went after public-employee pensions. Perhaps that’s just offering effective leadership as a pragmatic progressive.

Regardless, National Review Online’s Reihan Salam took note of Raimondo, offering this view:

Raimondo is one of the only politicians in the United States, at any level of government, to have successfully conveyed the importance of public sector efficiency. One hopes that she’ll go much further.

“Much further” could start with a run for governor in 2014, and Raimondo has strong assets to wield: She’s a skilled campaigner with a good story; she raises lots of money; and she ranks with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras as the state’s most popular elected officials.

Some labor folks remain angry at Raimondo about last year’s pension overhaul, but criticism from other quarters — like when she claimed a Manhattan Institute award — has been rare.

Raimondo also found favor with 48 percent of union households in a Channel 12 poll in February.

Still, a Brown University poll in December 2011 showed Raimondo with a 61 pecent approval rating among Republicans, compared with approval from just 37.5 percent among Democrats.   

Raimondo’s fiscal pragmatism seems a snug match for the independents who form Rhode Island’s biggest bloc of voters. Yet Frank Caprio’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign is also a stark reminder of what can happen when a candidate loses a fundamental base of support among Democrats.

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