PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — In liberal Rhode Island, Republican Allan Fung stands a chance of flipping a U.S. House seat and possibly helping his party gain control of the chamber in the midterms.
There is just one Republican in New England’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Fung saw an opportunity to break the Democratic Party’s three-decade hold on the seat for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District when longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin announced his retirement this year.
Despite Fung’s momentum, some political observers say it’s still hard to fathom a Republican pulling off such a big win in Rhode Island. But many others say it’s a tossup or think Fung could have a slight edge over Democrat Seth Magaziner. Moderate candidate William Gilbert is also on the ballot.
“All the ingredients are there for the right kind of Republican to win that district and Allan Fung is the right kind of Republican,” said Wendy Schiller, a Brown University professor and director of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Fung said, “I want to be part of bringing back that brand of moderate Republican leadership that is missing in Congress in all of New England right now.”
Magaziner, the state’s treasurer, says voting for Fung will empower House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and far-right Republicans to adopt extremist policies because Fung won’t stand up to them. McCarthy has visited Rhode Island to raise money for Fung.
“I will fight against the extremists that are trying to overturn our democracy, cut Social Security and Medicare,” Fung said during a recent debate. “He wants to put them in charge of Congress. I will not let that happen.”
Nationally, Democrats up for election face headwinds because voters are blaming President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party for inflation. Fung is laser-focused on inflation — in ads, debates, conversations with voters and interviews, he talks about the cost of groceries and home heating oil. He says it’s Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s fault and he wants to rein in federal spending.
Fung is known throughout Rhode Island because he served as mayor of the state’s second-largest city, Cranston, from 2009 to 2021, and ran for governor twice. He lost both times to Democrat Gina Raimondo, now U.S. commerce secretary.
He projects the image of a New England moderate Republican by comparing himself to another popular Republican in a liberal neighboring state, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
Fung also talks about how he would work with Democrats, pointing to common priorities like investing in infrastructure and creating U.S. manufacturing jobs. Fung said he supports Biden’s hard-fought $1 trillion infrastructure law, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act to revitalize domestic manufacturing.
Magaziner is well known too, having won election statewide twice. He was elected treasurer in 2014 and reelected in 2018. He has the state’s Democratic establishment behind him and support from national Democratic leaders. U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke at a rally and First Lady Jill Biden campaigned for him.
Emily Lynch, an assistant teaching professor at the University of Rhode Island, said there isn’t anything Magaziner has or hasn’t done that is negatively affecting him — “it’s that pressure, the negative views of the economy affecting the party in power.” It’s going to be a really close race, she said.
Magaziner has worked to keep abortion front and center in the campaign. He said that unlike Fung, he’ll fight any attempts to roll back women’s rights.
“I trust women to make the choice of whether or when to have children,” Magaziner said in their debate. “He thinks that it should be up to politicians and judges.”
Fung said he would not support a national ban on abortion and he backs legislation proposed by a bipartisan group of senators seeking to codify the right to an abortion and protect contraception access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“I do not support a national abortion ban. Never said it, never will vote for it, nor would I criminalize it,” Fung said.
“I would protect a woman’s ability to make that deeply personal decision within a timeframe and reserve late-term abortions for life of the mother, rape or incest,” he added. “So I would support that bill that has been proposed on the Senate side.”
The Congressional Leadership Fund said it has put $2.8 million into the district to support Fung and oppose Magaziner because Fung’s strength as a candidate combined with a Democrat’s retirement “have given us a real shot to win a seat Democrats thought they could take for granted.”
Democrats are heavily invested in the race, too, spending about $2.4 million through the House Majority PAC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DCCC said Wednesday.
Among Rhode Island’s registered voters, 44 percent are Democratic, 41 percent are unaffiliated and 15 percent are Republican, according to state data.
Parts of the 2nd Congressional District are more conservative than one would expect. In the western part of the state, the towns of Foster, Glocester and Burrillville are “about as red as they get for the Northeast,” said Adam Myers, an associate professor at Providence College.
Republican-heavy neighborhoods were moved into the district from U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s district during redistricting a decade ago. Critics at the time said the changes seemed crafted to help Cicilline’s reelection efforts. Biden still won the district by about 14 points in 2020.
The state’s Democratic establishment has shown to be more effective than Republicans in the past at mobilizing voters on Election Day. Magaziner has that going for him, Myers said.
“It’s hard for me to see a Republican candidate winning in a 14-point district these days,” Myers said. “But I wouldn’t put a lot of money on that.”
Story by Jennifer McDermott.