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The mythology of “Rhode Island’s most popular politician”

October 3, 2012

Another outburst of Raimondomania flared when state Treasurer Gina Raimondo was a guest last week on Greater Boston, a Hub-centric public affairs show on WGBH-TV. Getting the attention of Bostonians is no small accomplishment. But it’s not a complete surprise; Raimondo, after all, was  the (Democratic) architect of a pension overhaul plan (in a state where labor remains a significant interest group). It’s a narrative that’s catnip for far-flung media interest.

Yet WGBH became the second out-of-town media source in less than a month to mistakenly tout Raimondo as “Rhode Island’s Most Popular Politician.” Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt made the same mistake (“she’s . . . . the most popular politician in Rhode Island”) in early September.

The question is not whether Raimondo is popular. Her 58 percent approval rating in a WPRI poll released this week twins her with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras for top Ocean State honors.

But Hiatt and WGBH weighed in before that poll, back when Taveras edged Raimondo for the “most popular distinction.” (It might surprise some people to learn that Taveras also out-raised Raimondo last year.)

The real question is, why is Raimondo so much more of a media darling than Taveras? The answer has something to do with the responsibilities of their different offices.

Raimondo has elevated the status of an office once mostly associated with unclaimed property, stimulating ongoing questions about a gubernatorial run in 2014.

Being mayor encompasses a broader portfolio and is a more thankless task. And while Taveras has helped to bring Providence back from the brink of bankruptcy, that’s a more complicated, unfinished tale. (One significant distinction is how Taveras used negotiations with unions to make progress, rather than the pension-route fiat of enacting legislation.)  

Back on Greater Boston, host Emily Rooney seemed charmed by the smart and funny treasurer, a Rhodes scholar and venture capitalist-turned-politician.

Raimondo said ‘being honest” with unions helped to get the pension overhaul done; the pending lawsuit by a series of unions went unmentioned.

Rooney went on to wonder why Rhode Island is so screwed up; “What’s going on with your state?,” she asked, adding that it should be manageable.

Raimondo responded in part:

“It will be . . . . I am firmly of the view that if you put the facts to the people, consensus will develop and you can lead forward.”

Even though that sounded a lot like a campaign announcement, Raimondo (like Taveras) remains coy about her plans for seeking higher office, even as 2014 draws steadily closer.

In the short term, Raimondo’s media darling status will help to build an already impressive out-of-town network of campaign contributors. 

But two years is an eternity in politics, and Raimondo needs a winning Act II to fill the gap before 2014.

Speculation continues, meanwhile, about whether Lincoln Chafee might land in the Obama administration if the president wins re-election. And Taveras still has considerable time to tout his own narrative.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Zenobia permalink
    October 3, 2012 7:02 pm

    Because Angel Taveras still has to govern a very complex city. Gina Raimondo can pretty much just burnish her laurels until it’s time to declare.

  2. Len Levin permalink
    October 3, 2012 7:48 pm

    In politics, popularity can be a fickle thing. Remember how popular Lincoln Chafee was before he was elected governor?


  1. High approval ratings are hardly a guarantee of electoral victory « On Politics
  2. Raimondo looks to broaden her base heading into 2013 « On Politics

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