The challenge facing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charles Fogarty was neatly encapsulated during an October 6 televised debate when panelist Karen Adams, invoking an expression used by a favorite relative, rhetorically asked, “Why upset the apple cart?”
The lieutenant governor responded in sync with his campaign message, trying to paint Republican Governor Donald L. Carcieri as an underachiever who has presided over growing joblessness, a big run-up in tuition at state colleges, and increases in the uninsured. “One of us get results,” charged Fogarty, who says he is running “to fundamentally change the way the state does business,” while the other talks about doing things.
While this message no doubt strikes a chord with the Democratic faithful, it remains to be seen whether it resonates with the bulk of Rhode Island voters — who have demonstrated a clear preference for Republican governors, after all, over most of the last 25 years.
In terms of style and substance, the WPRI-TV/Providence Journal debate at Toll Gate High School in Warwick more or less seemed a draw, which decidedly works to the incumbent Carcieri’s advantage.
Although questions from the panel succeeded in reinforcing some sharp differences between the candidates — such as how the Republican governor is unapologetically pro-life — Carcieri projected a solid image of competence. Fogarty got in some digs, but undecided voters may be left wondering if he would do much of a better job.
On a purely stylistic front, the eyeglasses worn by the lieutenant governor, which did him no favors, had the effect of obscuring his eyes at times. While Fogarty sounded confident and assertive, his opponent has an undeniable knack for framing issues in ways that make him sound pretty reasonable. In one such example, Carcieri said, “I’m not saying the world’s coming to an end [if gay marriage becomes law]. I said I’m a traditionalist.”
The two candidates took a glass-is-half-full approach to discussing the Rhode Island economy. Fogarty described Carcieri’s record on jobs and spending as a failure, while the incumbent sounded an optimistic message of statewide improvements and said he needs a second term to make further strides. Both candidates expressed their support for civil unions, as opposed to gay marriage, and their opposition to the casino.
Carcieri, meanwhile, was in good humor while noting Fogarty’s lengthy professional tenure at the State House. The governor also disarmed attempts to link him to the unpopular president by reminding the lieutenant governor, “Charlie, you’re running against me,” not George W. Bush.
In closing, the incumbent repeated his self-description as someone who will challenge the status quo of Rhode Island politics. He panned Fogarty as “a part of the system.”
Fogarty offered a forward-looking message, talking about the things — like good schools, good jobs, and good health-care — that young Rhode Islanders should be able to count on.