Rhode Island Republicans may have already found a candidate to challenge Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D), a first-term lawmaker who has suffered from low popularity and may be running for re-election in 2012 in less-than-favorable circumstances.
State GOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione confirmed this week that he is considering a run for the office.
“As much as 2010 was a year you don’t want to miss, 2012 will be the same,” he told Roll Call. “Anyone who’s involved in politics and has aspirations to someday run for office should be looking at [the Senate seat] seriously. … I’ve given it some thought myself.”
Cicione has had mixed results as chairman of Rhode Island’s minority party. The GOP picked up a handful of seats in the state Legislature, came within two points of winning a gubernatorial contest in which few took the Republican candidate seriously, but lost the high-profile election to fill the Congressional seat held by the retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
Cicione, an attorney, said he’s serious about a possible run for Senate, but that he doesn’t expect to make a decision before the end of the year. He acknowledged that he isn’t an ideal candidate – he isn’t wealthy and has never won elected office – and that he would rather see Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) launch a bid.
Cicione recently discussed the possibility with the term-limited governor, who is leaving office in less than two months.
“He just told me to shut up – that he’s got to be focused for the next few months on getting through his transition,” Cicione said. “My first preference is that the governor takes a couple months off in January, starts tapping his fingers, gets bored, and decides to run. He has the resources to start a serious campaign right off the bat.”
Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe would not rule out a possible run when asked about the governor’s future.
“The governor is not focused on anything past January right now,” she said. “He and the first lady will take some well-deserved time off before any decisions are made about a next move.”
A Brown University poll released in February revealed that 52 percent of Rhode Islanders held an unfavorable view of Whitehouse, who took office in 2006 amid the Democratic surge by ousting the popular Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee. (Update, 9:15 p.m. — A newer Brown poll showed his unfavorables at 48.5 percent.)
Cicione suggested a few other Republicans who may challenge Whitehouse:
- Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian: His moderate policies could present problems in a GOP primary, but the mayor of Rhode Island’s second largest city has made no secret of his desire to run for higher office.
- Cranston Mayor Allen Fung: Thought to be a rising star in the Ocean State’s beleaguered GOP, Fung is the mayor of the state’s third-largest city.
- Lincoln Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond: While he has low name recognition statewide, Almond is considered capable and well-liked.
Roll Call Politics rates Whitehouse’s re-election race as Leans Democratic.