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Republicans target a House seat in deep-blue Rhode Island

The Early 202

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In today’s editionAmy Gardner digs in and finds that a majority of GOP nominees — 291 in all — deny the 2020 election results … What we’re watching: How the White House responds to OPEC … Biden and DeSantis make nice in Florida … but first, Theo hits the campaign trail …

The campaign

Republicans target a House seat in deep-blue Rhode Island

JOHNSTON, R.I. — Seth Magaziner, the Democratic nominee for an open House seat in Rhode Island, stood in a senior center in this Providence suburb on Wednesday morning, trying to convince Democrats frustrated with high inflation and a weakening economy not to vent their frustrations by voting Republican.

The race shouldn’t be competitive. President Biden won the district by nearly 14 points in 2020. Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin has held the seat with little trouble for more than two decades, winning by almost 17 points two years ago. A Republican hasn’t won a House seat in Rhode Island in 30 years.

But Langevin’s decision not to run for reelection allowed Republicans to recruit Allan Fung, the popular former mayor of the state’s second-most-populous city, and make a play for the seat in an effort to maximize their chances of retaking the House in November.

Now even Democrats admit the race for what should be a safe seat has gotten uncomfortably tight. Polling is sparse, but a BostonGlobe/Suffolk University poll conducted in June before the primary found Fung leading Magaziner, the state treasurer, 45 percent to 39 percent. A WPRI poll of the race is set to come out this afternoon.

It doesn’t help that Fung is widely viewed as a nice guy. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) praised him last week as “a quality opponent” and “not an extremist.”

  • House Majority PAC, Democrats’ flagship super PAC, has plowed $1.3 million into ads attacking Fung — an indication of how competitive the race has become. It’s the first time the super PAC has run TV ads in Rhode Island, according to campaign finance records. Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, is running $1 million in ads of its own bashing Magaziner.

“It’s still a blue district,” Calvin Moore, a CLF spokesman, wrote in an email to The Early. “But Allan Fung’s unique strength as a candidate plus a Democrat retirement has made the race winnable.”

Democrats are hustling to hold the seat by convincing voters that Fung is no moderate. Magaziner’s TV ads warn that voting for Fung would help Republicans retake the House, allowing the party to cut Social Security and eradicate abortion rights.

“We cannot take that risk,” Magaziner said at the senior center on Wednesday. “We cannot let Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District be the place that put the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

Moderate or not?

Fung bristles at the charge that he’s no different than other Republicans.

“Total outright lie by Seth that I want to get rid of Social Security,” Fung said in an interview at coffee shop in Cranston, the city he led for 12 years. Fung’s mother relies on Social Security, he said; Magaziner’s does not. (Magaziner responded in a statement that he saw as a child “how Social Security allowed my grandparents to put food on the table and afford their prescriptions.”)

Fung opposed a 2019 bill codifying abortion rights in Rhode Island, but he has said he would vote for a bill to do so at the federal level introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). He’s praised aspects of former president Donald Trump’s record but also said Trump was “not a guy that I would hang out with.”

  • Fung is running in the mold of Republican lawmakers such as Reps. John Katko (N.Y.), David G. Valadao (Calif.) and Young Kim (Calif.) — “even a guy like [Rep.] Dan Crenshaw [(R-Tex.)], who like me isn’t afraid to say climate change,” Fung said.

Katko, who voted to impeach Trump and is retiring, was one of only a handful of House Republicans who voted for last year's infrastructure law as well as legislation this year to bolster domestic semiconductor manufacturing — laws that Fung said he would’ve voted for if he was in Congress. Kim voted for the latter bill.

Former senator Lincoln Chafee, who was the last Republican to represent Rhode Island in Washington before losing his seat in 2006, said he believed Fung was a genuine moderate. “It’s hard to portray him as cloven hooves and a forked tail,” he told The Early.

Still, he thinks Fung is going to lose.

“The Supreme Court decision on Roe, I think that really changed the dynamic and did not help Fung,” said Chafee, who also served as the state's governor. “We’re a very Roman Catholic state, the most Roman Catholic in the country, but we’re very pro-choice.”

A 'weird, weird place'

The district Fung and Magaziner are scrapping over includes part of Providence, the state’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold. But it also takes in Johnston — which voted for Trump by nine points in 2020 — and other working-class Providence suburbs, as well as small inland towns that went for Trump and coastal communities that broke for Biden.

“It’s a weird, weird place,” said one Democratic operative who’s run successful campaigns in Rhode Island, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the state’s political eccentricities candidly.

Rhode Island is largely working class, but it’s elected lawmakers from moneyed backgrounds such as Chafee and the late Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell. (Magaziner, whose father, Ira Magaziner, grew wealthy as a consultant and went on to serve in the Clinton administration, would fit into this tradition; “Seth Magaziner was handed everything on a silver platter,” the narrator says in one Republican attack ad.)

The state's politics are “incredibly provincial,” the operative said, but at the same time Democrats are betting that Rhode Island voters ultimately care more about which party will control the House than sending a well-liked former mayor to Washington.

  • Democrats are more optimistic now that an exhausting primary battle is over. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) attributed Fung’s poll numbers to high name recognition after two failed runs for governor. “But that’s quickly being erased as both candidates are up on TV,” Reed said.

Magaziner’s strategy in the home stretch is to remind frustrated Democratic-leaning voters that they don’t agree with Republicans on the issues, no matter how much they like Fung.

“I cannot think of a national-level issue where voters in this district prefer the Republican position in Washington to the Democratic position,” Magaziner said in an interview on Wednesday.

It's the same strategy that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) ran in 2006 when he defeated Chafee despite his popularity.

“It’s always an uphill battle for a Republican,” said Chafee, who ran for governor as an independent and then became a Democrat. “I lost my reelection for the Senate with high approval ratings. But people just didn’t want a Republican Senate.”

A majority of GOP nominees — 291 in all — deny the 2020 election results

correction

A previous version of this item provided an incorrect count of the number of Republican nominees who have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election. The correct number is 291, not 299. The error was caused by an incorrect application of the criteria The Post is using to identify election deniers. This item and headline have been corrected.

EXCLUSIVE: “A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election,” according to a Washington Post analysis by our colleague Amy Gardner.

  • “Candidates who have challenged or refused to accept Joe Biden’s victory are running in every region of the country and in nearly every state. Republican voters in four states nominated election deniers in all federal and statewide races The Post examined.”
  • “Although some are running in heavily Democratic areas and are expected to lose, most of the election deniers nominated are likely to win: Of the nearly 300 on the ballot, 174 are running for safely Republican seats. Another 51 will appear on the ballot in tightly contested races.”
  • “The implications will be lasting: If Republicans take control of the House, as many political forecasters predict, election deniers would hold enormous sway over the choice of the nation’s next speaker, who in turn could preside over the House in a future contested presidential election. The winners of all the races examined by The Post — those for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, Senate and House — will hold some measure of power overseeing American elections.”

What we're watching

What's next after OPEC's move?

After OPEC said that it was going cut oil production by two million barrels a day, our Post colleagues Jeff Stein, Rachel Lerman, and John Hudson reported the move is “leaving senior White House officials contemplating their next steps and publicly hinting at unprecedented measures to undercut the gulf nation’s grip on international energy markets.”

Some members of Congress did not hold their fire Wednesday. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the U.S. should reconsider its alliance with Saudi Arabia and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted that the U.S. must end all military assistance to the country. Democratic Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.) and Sean Casten (Ill.) have a bill that would “pull U.S. military forces out of Saudi Arabia,” our colleagues report.

The White House indicated it would work with Congress, but Congress won't be back in session until mid-November, after the midterm elections.

Biden has already tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease pressure on gas prices. We are watching to see what else the Biden administration can and will do and how quickly they act. We'll also be watching to how quickly Republicans make this a campaign issue, especially if gas prices continue to rise — as they are expected to do.

At the White House

Biden, DeSantis meet in Florida, pledging bipartisanship on Ian relief

A meeting of rivals: “Biden visited a storm-stricken community in southwest Florida on Wednesday, touring the damage from Hurricane Ian and praising one of his top political rivals and harshest critics, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis,” our colleague Toluse Olorunnipa reports.

  • “I think he’s done a good job,” Biden told reporters when asked about the Florida governor’s handling of the storm. “We’ve worked hand in glove. We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove. … In dealing with this crisis, we’ve been in complete lockstep.”
  • “The White House said Biden and DeSantis, potential opponents in the 2024 presidential campaign, would put politics aside during the trip, instead focusing on the urgent matter of providing relief to a part of the state that was battered by flooding, high winds and widespread power outages … For the most part, that was the case as Biden was greeted by Republican officials in Florida, including Sens. Marco Rubio and RickScott, and received accolades from DeSantis for his response.”
  • Not so fast: Biden used his Wednesday remarks to “talk about how extreme weather in places including California, Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon shows that climate change is wreaking havoc around the country” and “link DeSantis to the issue.”
  • “What the governor’s done is pretty remarkable,” Biden said. “The governor has recognized that there’s a thing called global warming.”

The Media

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