Gina Raimondo Turns Back Liberal Challenge in Rhode Island Governor’s Primary

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Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island defeated a liberal challenger in a Democratic primary election on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press, reasserting herself as the party’s leader in a state where she has battled criticism from activists on the left and intransigence from old-guard lawmakers in her own camp.

Ms. Raimondo, 47, is expected to face a serious fight for re-election in November despite Rhode Island’s Democratic lean and the difficult political climate for Republicans nationwide. Polls have consistently shown her vulnerable to defeat, though she and her allies believe it will be difficult for any Republican to escape the shadow of President Trump, who is fairly unpopular in the state.

She will face Allan Fung, the Republican mayor of Cranston who also ran against her four years ago in November.

Complicating matters for both parties, Joe Trillo, a former Republican state legislator who chaired Mr. Trump’s campaign in Rhode Island, is also running for governor as an independent.

Ms. Raimondo’s primary challenger, Matt Brown, attempted to channel the energy of the populist left, portraying her as overly close to powerful financial interests. Mr. Brown, a former Rhode Island secretary of state, collected endorsements from activist groups on the left, such as Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, a committee aligned with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

But Mr. Brown’s populist message failed to deliver an upset against a well-funded incumbent who is one of just two female Democratic governors in the country. (Kate Brown of Oregon is the other.)

A former venture-capital executive, Ms. Raimondo won her first term in 2014 with support from just 41 percent of Rhode Island voters, after a third-party candidate drew support away from both the Democratic and Republican standard-bearers. She has struggled at times to navigate the insular political culture of the Rhode Island State Legislature, where Democrats hold majorities but powerful party bosses and entrenched local interests limit the governor’s influence.

And Rhode Island’s frail economy has been a persistent political challenge for Ms. Raimondo, who has pledged in her campaigns to help restore the state’s economic vitality.

Rhode Island struggled longer than most states to shake off the effects of the last recession, at times recording the highest employment rate in the nation. Ms. Raimondo had a good run where Fortune 500 companies and other firms announced plans to locate or expand in Rhode Island. The unemployment rate has declined fairly steadily during her term, now standing at 4.1 percent, slightly above the national average. But some Democrats and Republicans have argued that she should have done more to improve the economy and the wages of state residents.

Ms. Raimondo has also been haunted by her overhaul of the pension system. The stringent measures she took years ago as state treasurer, including eliminating cost-of-living increases and moving workers into different retirement accounts, earned her the enduring enmity of many of the state’s powerful unions, and some are still angry about it.

And she oversaw the bungled start of a new $364-million computer system that failed in its goal of helping residents sign up for food stamps and health benefits.

“There is a percentage of people who are in families affected by pension reform who won’t forgive her, and a segment of the Rhode Island population that doesn’t like a woman at the helm,” said Wendy Schiller, a political scientist at Brown University.

Despite her travails at home, Ms. Raimondo has been held in high regard by national Democratic Party leaders, earning admiration for her muscular fund-raising network and crisp views on how Democrats should talk about jobs and economic growth. She is the vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association, the party’s national committee focused on electing state executives.

The Republican nominee, Mr. Fung, came close to achieving an upset victory in the governor’s race four years ago, running less than 5 percentage points behind Ms. Raimondo in a year when his party made broad gains nationally. He has criticized Ms. Raimondo this year for her approach to economic development and has called for a tougher approach to immigration enforcement at the local level.

But Mr. Fung has responded unsteadily to national controversies involving the White House, and has taken positions on a number of issues, including gun control, that may limit his support in a deep-blue state where Hillary Clinton ran nearly 16 points ahead of Mr. Trump.

The presence of Mr. Trillo in the race adds a strong element of unpredictability in a state where third-party candidates have routinely drawn significant support, and where the previous governor, Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican senator who left the party, was elected in 2010 as an independent.

Mr. Chafee, now a Democrat, endorsed Mr. Brown’s primary campaign in a rebuke to Ms. Raimondo, but failed to push him over the top.

Alexander Burns reported from New York, and Katharine Q. Seelye from Boston.

Alexander Burns reported from New York, and Katharine Q. Seelye from Boston.

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Rhode Island Governor Fends Off Liberal Challenger in Democratic Race
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