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The unhappy election of 2010

October 31, 2010

Speaking today on Meet the Press, ace political prognosticator Charlie Cook called the anticipated national Republican tide on Tuesday “an unearned win.” In other words, Americans are so anxious about unemployment and the economy that they want to take it on someone, anyone. The feeling would be pretty much the same regardless of which party was in power.

And while Rhode Island remains among the bluest of blue states, this unhappy, uncertain feeling will very much influence the Ocean State’s election on Tuesday:

—  None of the gubernatorial candidates have polled better than 35 percent in the run-up to the election — a less than overwhelming vote in the ability of any of these men to put Rhode Island on a better path.

— Polls show a tight CD1 race between David Cicilline and John Loughlin. If the economy were better, one suspects, Cicilline would win in a walk. But the depth of anti-incumbent sentiment, even in Rhode Island, gives the under-funded Loughlin a shot at winning.

— Republicans, with just 10 of 113 legislative seats, are bound to increase their numbers on Tuesday. But despite a panoply of new efforts against the status quo (RI Clean Slate, RI Tea Party, RISC Business Network), the opposition fails to speak with a united voice. In one prime example, the Tea Party called out RISC for endorsing Democrat Frank Caprio.

— The Democratic unity of past election seasons has broken down, as exemplified by Shoveitgate.  

What does all this mean?

On a national level, smart people disagree about whether President Obama will benefit or suffer from Republican gains. (Offering the long view during Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw noted how Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton each faced inhospitable political terrain two years into their first terms and went on to win strong reelection victories.) Suffice it to say, Republicans will face pressure to deliver if they retake the House.

Back in Rhode Island, some thought the state’s worsening budget woes would shock the sysem, resulting in a significant political realignment. That hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen this time around, either.

Nor is it inconceivable that Republicans could further be marginalized if, say, Lincoln Chafee, wins the governor’s office and Democrats maintain their hold on the four other state general offices.

Regardless, Rhode Island will still face the central challenge of improving its state finances and overcoming moribund economic development.

I spent a few days traveling the state recently to gauge the mood of the electorate for a feature that will air tomorrow during WRNI’s Morning Edition. A woman at the Modern Diner in Pawtucket probably expressed the outlook best. Envisioning a long slog, she said the state desperately needs strong leadership and what she called “intense therapy.”

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