Senate District 29: Bellwether….until it’s not?

The local media and gay marriage advocates are tabbing Rhode Island Senate District 29 in Warwick as “one to watch” as a mini-referendum on gay marriage in the state. David Scharfenberg sums it up:

Laura Pisaturo, a lesbian lawyer who backs same-sex nuptals, is facing off against Senator Michael McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat who opposes gay marriage and holds a critical post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over the same-sex marriage bill. McCaffrey’s re-election could have long-term ramifications since he is considered a possible successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.

Ted Nesi is a good gauge on the local media’s conventional wisdom:

One of the most closely watched races in the state. Gay-marriage supporters are gunning for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Mike McCaffrey, another veteran accused of being out-of-touch with his district. Their candidate is Laura Pisaturo, a self-assured lawyer who’s become the face of Fight Back RI’s push to overthrow the Senate status quo. McCaffrey is clearly in some trouble, but he’s been around for a long time and has union support after sponsoring a bill to give teachers binding arbitration. The ground game will decide his fate, and that’s the strong suit of Pisaturo operative Ray Sullivan; are McCaffrey supporters energized enough to show up, particularly without much else on the ballot?

While reliably progressive Bob Plain observes:

As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, [McCaffery] and Paiva Weed have been close allies in their quest to keep gay couples from enjoying the same marital rights as others. Being popular with leadership doesn’t always translate to strength in the district and Warwick may well be ready for a change. Pisaturo enjoys the support of the progressive community and she’s been working hard to get out the vote. McCaffery, who sponsored the binding arbitration bill, has the support of the NEA. Some handicappers think Pisaturo could squeak out a victory; everyone seems to agree it will be close.

My analysis is based simply on the fact that I live in the district. Both will run strong in their own neighborhoods (Hoxsie, Cole Farm & Conimicut for Mcaffrey; Governor Francis area for Pisaturo), but I think McCaffrey’s support is deeper throughout the district than many pundits apparently (or want to) believe. He’s a prototypical socially conservative, pro-union Democrat who mirrors his mostly working-class district.
While both Nesi and Plain mention that he has the support of the NEA (no word on AFT, though, which is the union that Warwick teachers belong to), McCaffrey also garnered support of several other unions–Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Rhode Island Construction and Building Trades Council, Carpenter’s Union Local 94, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 57. And believe me, Police and Fire will also support him. While McCaffrey’s list of endorsements reads like an alphabet-soup laundry list of unions, Pisaturo’s reads like a progressive’s dream–National Association of Social Workers, Clean Water Action, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Fight Back RI, The Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood Votes! and National Organization for Women.
Again, as his endorsements indicate, McCaffrey mirrors his district while Pisaturo is reflective of a socially liberal tablet that, to my experience, doesn’t really exist in most of District 29. However, there is a “live and let live” attitude and, as in so many other districts, McCaffrey will need both union Democrats and non-affiliated “traditionalists” to come out. He can’t count on any Republican cross-overs in a primary. Nonetheless, while it will come down to the ground game, in the end I think McCaffrey wins comfortably.
If McCaffrey loses or it’s close (either way), then I think it will be because not enough voters were motivated in the primary (we’ll be able to tell by turnout). Thus, a close Pisaturo win in a light-turnout primary won’t strike me as any sort of groundswell endorsement for gay marriage, at least in this District. But it sure will be spun that way. On the other hand, if I’m right and McCaffrey wins comfortably, will this race still be considered the gay marriage bellwether that so many progressive have touted? Somehow, I doubt it.

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Justin Katz
Justin Katz
11 years ago

You’re misunderstanding how long-term politics work in the left-leaning mainstream narrative: If a progressive wins, it’s always a mandate from the future that all officials should race to embrace; if a progressive loses, it’s evidence of a reactionary electorate acting from evil motivations and by no means an excuse for elected officials to respond to the results.

11 years ago

Kind of like voter initiatives: When they legalize gay marriage or decriminalize marijuana, they are an important democratic check on the backwards special-interest political system, but when they do the opposite, they are the tyranny of the majority unjustly imposed on the helpless few outside of the necessary checks and balances.
Or public-private loans: When the loans succeed or are made by left-leaning politicians, they are a vital progressive partnership between our government and the struggling market, but when they fail or are made by right-leaning politicians, they are a corrupt corporatist practice made for the exclusive benefit of the CEO class.
Progressives never were the most principled group. “Outcome-determinative” would be a kind way of describing their thought process.

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