Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo dealt her detractors a blow by scoring an unexpectedly big win in a primary election Wednesday, cruising past Democratic challenger Matt Brown by almost 24 points, according to unofficial results, while Cranston Mayor Allan Fung notched a decisive 16-point win over his closest GOP rival, Patricia Morgan.
The results set the stage for a November rematch of the key contestants from 2014, when Raimondo beat Fung by slightly more than 4 points.
Raimondo has been a polarizing figure since she spearheaded an overhaul as state treasurer of Rhode Island's pension system in 2011. While she argued that changes were necessary for the health of the pension system, many public employees and retirees remain upset about changes to their benefits.
Brown, who re-emerged in March after a 12-year absence from Rhode Island's political scene, fanned hopes of a progressive upset over Raimondo, attracting a string of stories from national media sources while trying to assemble a coalition of groups angry at the governor. In the end, however, Raimondo thumped Brown. With 99 percent of the unofficial results, she attracted 66,978 votes (or 57.1 percent), compared with 39,300 for Brown (33.5 percent), and 10,926 for another Democrat, Spencer Dickinson.
Raimondo's margin is noteworthy, given her approval rating, which has not topped 50 percent during her time as governor.
On the Republican side, with 99 percent of the vote, Fung led Morgan, 18,577 votes (56.4 percent) to 13,208 (40.1 percent). A third Republican, Giovanni Feroce, lagged behind with 1,147 votes.
In a statement, Fung said, "After today’s win, we are closer than ever to getting Rhode Island cleaned up and back on track. And while I am truly honored to be your candidate for November, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that this race is only going to get tougher!"
Raimondo hailed the Democratic results as a referendum on her overall approach as governor.
"We knew when we started this it wouldn't be easy, because change is hard, and we've been bringing change since we got into office, so we knew it would be tough," the governor told supporters gathered at the Union Station Brewery in Providence. "But we did it! We did it!"
Raimondo pointed to how Rhode Island faced high unemployment when she took office. While her administration has faced criticism on a range of issues, including the state's costly and problem-plagued IT system for human service benefits, she's also presided over econoic growth -- something attributed by the governor to her approach.
"We've been working as fast as we can to bring that change, and tonight the people of Rhode Island have said, 'do more, go faster, and keep going,' so that's what we're going to do," she said.
Raimondo thanked Rhode Islanders for voting for her, and she thanked her family, including her mother, Josephine, and her campaign staff. She pledged to work hard for the people of the state. The governor also credited Brown and Spencer for getting involved in the election.
Turning her attention toward November, Raimondo sounded two messages about what she called "a real race" with Fung: "We know two things about Allan Fung. Number one, he opposes the job-creation policies of my administration that have created over 20,000 jobs. And we know he's not going to have the courage to stand up to Preisdent Trump, who wants to take away Rhode Islanders' health care and drill off the coast of Rhode Island for oil."
The Republican Governors Association didn't waste time in going after Raimondo, contributing $300,000 to oppose her and releasing a statement shortly after her victory.
"Gina Raimondo has failed the people of Rhode Island,” said RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson. “After coming to office pledging to fix Rhode Island’s problems, Raimondo has done the opposite, presiding over anemic job growth, disturbing transparency issues, costly management failures, and an alarming scandal involving state child welfare services. Rhode Islanders deserve a leader who will remain committed to upholding their best interests and work tirelessly to do so, but Gina Raimondo has made it clear that she is all talk and no action.”
The November field for governor includes independent Joe Trillo, who served as Trump's campaign chairman in 2016. Most observers think Trillo will siphon some votes from Fung during the general election.
In other races, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee defeated progressive challenger Aaron Regunberg after a close battle. With 99 percent of the unofficial vote, McKee won 57,632 votes, or 51.1 percent, while Regunberg attracted 55,230 votes, or 48.9 percent.
Regunberg, a two-term state rep from Providence, conceded before midnight Wednesday. He credited McKee and vowed to keep fighting for his beliefs.
McKee "has given 20 years of his life to public service, and I know he can work to further the success of our state," Regunberg said in a statement. "Over the course of this campaign he has made commitments to stand up on issues that matter. And we will hold him to that, as we will our other elected officials."
"We knew that this campaign was not going to be easy," Regunberg continued. "We knew we were up against some powerful interests. But tonight, the people of Rhode Island sent a message that our movement, that our fight, that our voices cannot be ignored. And we will not stop demanding that our state and our nation make the right choices for our future. To stand with working families who are asking for a living wage and equal pay for equal work. To fight for universal healthcare as a fundamental human right for everyone. To take on the gun lobby and the NRA to get deadly weapons off our streets. To wake up to the climate crisis and act to save our air, our water, and our future. To protect a woman’s right to choose, no matter what happens in Washington. And to take action to end the culture of political corruption and backroom deals at our State House. Meanwhile, a series of progressive candidates held their seats or defeated challengers supported in some cases by Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello."
This post has been updated.