It was far from a landslide victory in State Senate District 29, where incumbent Michael McCaffrey managed to hold off challenger Laura Pisaturo by a 227-vote margin.
McCaffrey garnered 53 percent of the 3,429 votes cast in the Democratic primary, leaving Pisaturo with 46 percent. With no Republican challenger, McCaffrey will retain the seat he has held since 1994.
According to Donna McDonald, Warwick’s director of elections, voting numbers within District 29 were roughly 10 times higher than those in other districts, where just city council and congressional primaries were on the ballot. For example, at the John Brown Francis polling location, 470 ballots had been cast as of 5 p.m., while only 33 had been cast at Cedar Hill School, which lies outside the District 29 bounds. William Shields Post also boasted 437 votes as of that time.
The race was one to watch, and fell into a crucible of media attention when Governor Lincoln Chafee commented to a LGBT publication in Washington, D.C. that the McCaffrey-Pisaturo contest was “pivotal” in terms of Rhode Island’s marriage equality. Though both candidates focused on jobs and the economy as major campaign platforms, the focus often shifted to their differing opinions on same-sex marriage: McCaffrey, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, opposes it, while Pisaturo is an advocate and proponent.
Ultimately, it was a close race for a first-time candidate and a veteran senator, and McCaffrey was one of the lucky incumbents to hold onto his seat, as a handful of others in the state lost to challengers.
On Tuesday night, Pisaturo held a post-primary gathering at Palazzo’s Italian Deli in the Governor Francis Farms plaza. Friends, family and supporters surrounded her. The mood was subdued, and supporters were upset that their favored candidate lost out. Eyes were moist with tears, and consoling hugs were exchanged.
“I feel so proud of not only my family, [but] my campaign team and my supporters here in Warwick,” said Pisaturo Tuesday night after the numbers had come in. “We ran a great race.”
Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts was also in attendance, despite a broken arm she suffered while at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Pisaturo’s wife, Maria Tocco, serves as Roberts’ director of public relations.
“I have great respect for Laura,” said Roberts, who commended her for tossing her hat into the ring. “I know how hard tonight is for her.”
Meanwhile, McCaffrey’s team and supporters gathered just down the street at his law office on Warwick Avenue. When he arrived at around 8 p.m., McCaffrey said he felt confident. In an interview yesterday he explained he had picked up results at Randall Holden Elementary School, a precinct he had won, and when he arrived at his office (which doubled as his headquarters), they had most of the other numbers. It was shortly after 8 p.m. that McCaffrey knew he had won the primary.
“I felt ecstatic, I felt relieved,” he said. Now, McCaffrey said he’s on summer vacation. His plans? Yesterday he was going to his son’s baseball game and taking his daughter to the orthodontist.
Though Pisaturo lost out overall, she did manage to win her precinct in Governor Francis Farms.
“People came out because they want change,” said Pisaturo. “They believe in Rhode Island, they believe in a better future for Rhode Island, they want to be heard and they want real and true advocacy in the State House.”
She added, “This campaign stands for advocacy, accountability, fairness and equality.”
Pisaturo said through her campaigning process, she built a community with those in the district.
“And it’s bigger than this campaign,” she said.
McCaffrey said knocking on doors helped him to clinch things in the end; that, and the fact that people know and are familiar with him.
“We knew what votes we had to get out and we got our votes out, so we knew roughly where we stood,” he said.
After spending some time at the office, McCaffrey and supporters took the party back to McCaffrey’s home. Soon-to-be-washed wine glasses and a tray of pasta salad were all that remained yesterday.
McCaffrey said he is looking forward to getting back to the Senate to serve the people of Rhode Island.
“We’ll try to see what we can do to help the economy in Rhode Island and help small businesses in Rhode Island, to try to get business to come to Rhode Island,” he said.
To the voters, McCaffrey says, “Thank you and I’m there to work for [your] best interests.”
Despite her loss, Pisaturo said she believes she and her team took the right steps to win the race.
“I think we did everything we could have done, should have done, wanted to do,” she said. Instead, she believes outside forces turned the numbers against her.
“I am disappointed in what I think is a backlash,” she said. “I am disappointed in some fear and hate that was, I think, put into people’s mind[s] on the marriage equality issue and that’s very disappointing because there are so many more Rhode Islanders that not only believe in fairness and advocacy, but in equality for everyone.”
Those at Pisaturo’s gathering didn’t waste the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, and although there was disappointment in the air, the mood wasn’t entirely somber.
“Of course I would have preferred to have won, but I am so proud tonight. I really am,” said Pisaturo.
After things wrapped up, Pisaturo took to Twitter to thank her friends, family and those that voted for her. She even alluded to running in 2014, though only time will tell if she’ll toss her hat into the ring yet again.