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R.I. GOP Still Hopeful Whitehouse Challenger Will Emerge

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is one of several Democrats from the large class of 2006 facing their first re-election test in 2012.

With 2012 Senate recruiting efforts now in full swing, Rhode Island Republicans continue to struggle to find a viable challenger to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D).

Two potential GOP challengers spoke to Roll Call on Tuesday and sounded anything but confident as they consider trying to knock off the Ocean State’s junior Senator in 2012.

“I am giving it a thought,” Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said Tuesday afternoon, while acknowledging he has put very little effort into his consideration. “Obviously it’s very early in the process. It’s something that I at least want to give some thought to.”

Avedisian, a moderate Republican and mayor of the state’s second-largest city for the past decade, said he has not been in touch with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, conducted any polling or begun a federal fundraising effort. He reported $71,000 in his state campaign account, which is not transferable to a federal account, at the end of December.

“I assume it’s going to be a very difficult race,” he told Roll Call. “It’s going to be a presidential year. There’s going to be coattail effects from the president. They’ll energize their base.”

Avedisian’s comments came the same day that a fellow Republican, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who leads the state’s third-largest city, told a local television station he has ruled out a run at Whitehouse, which he estimated would require roughly $5 million.

Whitehouse reported $723,000 in his campaign account at the end of December and has since launched an aggressive fundraising campaign. More than 350 people crowded into a Providence fundraiser in late January that included Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), labor leaders and virtually every other top Democratic official in the state. The event, according to the local National Public Radio affiliate, likely cleared six figures.

Outgoing state GOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione, who said earlier in the year that he was considering a run, told Roll Call on Tuesday, “I really am not spending any time thinking about it.”
Cicione said that either Avedisian or former Gov. Donald Carcieri would be his “first choices” among potential challengers.
Avedisian “already has the political support he needs to run a good race,” according to Cicione.

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