There will be plenty on the political calendar this coming year to titillate Rhode Island's chattering classes. Start with the gay marriage fight. But there will be nothing quite so fascinating as the maneuvering for the 2014 governor's race.
THE CONTENDERS Raimondo.
Think of the story lines: Governor Chafee, the unpopular independent, seeking redemption in what may be the final race of his career; Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, the two most popular politicians in the state, preparing for a possible heavyweight fight in the Democratic primary; and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a potential GOP candidate, offering up the tantalizing prospect of a large Rhode Island city going red.
And that's just the most obvious, top-line stuff.
Behind the scenes, political operatives are already poring over decades of election results, jockeying for donors, and gaming out a race that is shaping up as one of the state's most intriguing in years.
Chafee, an independent, has made his share of mistakes. But aides believe their man — battered in the press and the polls — hasn't gotten his due.
Yes, Taveras brought Providence back from the brink. But the governor, they maintain, can claim a restoration story of his own. Chafee tamed a sizable deficit and major pension problems, too. And the governor, who opposed the disastrous 38 Studios deal as a candidate, has filed a sweeping lawsuit against the biggest players.
THE CONTENDERS Taveras.
As the economy recovers, Team Chafee argues, the governor will be able to make a strong case for able fiscal stewardship.
The trouble, of course, is that Treasurer Raimondo — who authored the state's landmark pension reform law — gets the credit for the central fiscal achievement of the last couple of years. And the governor has proven incapable, to date, of selling the accomplishments he can rightly claim.
Indeed, the Chafee camp will have to improve its messaging — no small task given the governor's indifference to politicking — if it is to take full advantage of its biggest advantage going forward: the power of incumbency.
In the coming months, Chafee will have a natural spot on the front page — submitting a budget sometime in January and, he hopes, signing a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
A gay nuptials law would anchor Chafee's claim as the strongest progressive in the gubernatorial race. And staking that claim — he'll also emphasize his support for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and his executive order establishing an Obamacare health insurance exchange in the face of anti-abortion opposition — is vital to his re-election prospects.
After all, the governor rode a coalition of liberals, Latinos, and labor to a narrow victory in a four-way race two years ago. And he has to build something similar if he's to have any chance this time around.
Chafee deeply disappointed a key part of that coalition — labor — when he signed the pension reform bill into law in 2011. But as one aide put it, public employee unions have no "fair-haired child" in the gubernatorial race.
Raimondo, as the author of pension reform, is on the outs. And Taveras has some bridges to build after pink-slipping every teacher in Providence when the city's budget crisis was at its peak.