The District 29 state senate race has gotten a lot of attention as of late, grabbing the spotlight for its undercurrent of marriage equality issues. Though neither candidate says their stance on same-sex marriage is a priority in their campaigns, a comment made by Governor Lincoln Chafee to a gay publication at the Democratic National Convention catapulted the candidates into the statewide, and even national, spotlight.
On Sept. 6, the Washington Blade, a LGBT newspaper, published an interview with Governor Chafee from the Democratic National Convention. In the story, Chafee called the District 29 senate race “pivotal” for marriage equality in Rhode Island.
Chris Johnson, a political reporter for the Blade wrote the story, and said in a telephone interview yesterday that he simply asked the governor what the status of same-sex marriage in the state was.
“I asked him generally speaking,” said Johnson, who said he was looking to talk with high-profile individuals at the DNC about issues from the LGBT community. Johnson said he knows Rhode Island is among those states looking into marriage equality legislation, and when he saw Chafee at Time Warner Cable Arena, he decided to approach him with his questions. But Johnson didn’t press Chafee for a specific race, and instead said the governor referenced the McCaffrey-Pisaturo contest on his own.
“It’s representative of Rhode Island,” said Chafee in the interview with the Blade. “If in that district, they elect a pro-marriage equality candidate, it’s going to send a broad, broad message across the state.”
Chafee’s spokeswoman, Christine Hunsinger, said yesterday that the governor chose to mention Senate District 29 in his interview because of his knowledge of the district, since he is from Warwick. Hunsinger called District 29 a “bellwether community;” she also cited an abundance of “traditional families” within the district. Hunsinger said any changes made or not made during today’s election in the district would be a good barometer for marriage equality in the rest of the state.
Today’s primary election will decide the winner of the senate seat, since there is no Republican challenger in the race. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
The two Democrats, incumbent Michael McCaffrey and challenger Laura Pisaturo, are split on the issue of marriage equality; Pisaturo supports it while McCaffrey has said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
Both candidates have ramped up their campaigns in the last few weeks, sending out mailers and email blasts to constituents.
None of the literature focuses on marriage equality. Instead, their key issues are jobs, the economy, and in McCaffrey’s case, a pro-life stance.
McCaffrey, who has received the bulk of his endorsements from local unions, also recently received funds from the Rhode Island Right to Life PAC; the federal Right to Life PAC endorses Republicans, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and congressional candidate Brendan Doherty. McCaffrey sent out a mailer recently featuring a photo of a newborn that read, “A vote for McCaffrey is a vote for life.”
Pisaturo, on the other hand, received $3,956.25 from Planned Parenthood Votes! on Sept. 5. She also reaped funds from People For Rhode Island’s Future, a pro-gay marriage organization that spent $26,500 to support Pisaturo and defeat McCaffrey, among a slew of other General Assembly candidates. Tim Gill, a software entrepreneur and active LGBT supporter from Denver, Colo., gave $20,000 to People for Rhode Island’s Future in addition to $15,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes! With local races getting the attention (and money) of out-of-state investors, it’s no secret that marriage equality is a hot topic.
But the candidates don’t seem convinced.
“I'm focused on what we need to do to improve our state's struggling economy and create jobs,” said Pisaturo in an email yesterday. “At the end of the day, this race comes down to one thing: change versus more of the same.”
“I’m surprised the governor would get involved with a state senate race as an independent,” said McCaffrey yesterday. McCaffrey said the governor believes that gay marriage will jump start the economy, while McCaffrey disagrees, saying he will push to make it easier for small businesses to open and grow.
McCaffrey said the prominence of the gay marriage issue in the District 29 senate race is due to “special interest groups, pumping a lot of money and resources” into spreading their message.
A mass email sent out this weekend by McCaffrey reads, “My opponent and her special interest backers are on the attack.” The email also includes a list of non-profits that McCaffrey has aided, as well as a list of McCaffrey’s accomplishments in the senate.
Meanwhile, Pisaturo sent out a mailer early this week featuring a picture of herself and Mayor Scott Avedisian, a Republican.
“Unlike State House insiders, Mayor Avedisian acted when he needed to,” the mailer reads. “He didn’t wait until it was a financial crisis. That’s the kind of leader Laura Pisaturo will be.”
Unsurprisingly, Avedisian said that as a Republican, he makes it a point not to endorse candidates in Democratic primaries.
“I am, however, flattered that both candidates in that Democrat Senate primary have mentioned me during their campaigns,” said Avedisian in an email yesterday. “Senator McCaffrey recently sent a press release talking about the work he did in securing additional money from Johnson & Wales University and he mentioned that he had worked with me on that issue. Laura Pisaturo recently sent out a mailing that was complimentary of the work that I had done with the City Council to enact some pension reforms. I know that some other candidates have also sent out mailings and press releases that talk about projects that we have worked on together or issues that they believe the city has handled well.”
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, has said before that should he retain his position, he will call for a vote on the same-sex marriage legislation in the upcoming session. During his presentation of delegate votes at the DNC, Fox made reference to his partner, Marcus, who he said was at home attending to Fox’s 90-year-old mother.
“Not because he has to, but because he’s family,” Fox said.
Fox also used the national stage to say that marriage freedom “means the world to me.”
Pisaturo has received endorsements from Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) and Fight Back RI. A representative from MERI would not comment on how the media’s focus on marriage equality in District 29 has impacted the race or the same-sex marriage debate on a statewide level.
But despite the highlight on marriage equalities issues, the candidates themselves continue to point back to the economy.
McCaffrey said people know his record with Warwick, and he hopes to continue to help improve the business climate and economy of the city. He said he has been speaking with constituents on the street and over the phone, making sure they know what he stands for.
Pisaturo contends that the state has moved in the wrong direction under nearly two decades of McCaffrey’s service.
“People in Warwick are frustrated,” she said. “They need hope and they want their voices to be heard. Most of all they're tired of politics as usual. And that's why I am running for office, staying focused on jobs and our economy – ready to be an advocate for my neighbors.”