Potential Candidates in Rhode Island Begin to Emerge

Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:23pm

Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s (D-R.I.) surprise retirement announcement this week triggers what could be an opportunity for Republicans to compete in what has been a traditionally Democratic district.

The open-seat race is certainly more competitive without Kennedy — and the national mood this November will favor the GOP — but the 1st district has consistently voted for Democrats in the past.

Democrats have a deep bench in Rhode Island, and there has been no shortage of potential candidate names that have been floated since the news broke of Kennedy’s retirement Thursday night.

National Democrats have mentioned Providence Mayor David Cicilline as a possible candidate, as well as state party Chairman Bill Lynch and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts. Former Rep. Bob Weygand (D), who represented the state’s 2nd district from 1997 to 2001, is also a name that has been floated as a possible candidate. Weygand lost a Senate challenge to then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) in 2000.

Roberts declined to address a potential bid for the seat through a spokesman, and requests for comment from Lynch, Laffey, Cicilline and Weygand were not immediately returned.

Additionally, former Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty (D) is another potential candidate, as well as state Rep. Betsy Dennigan (D). Dennigan is currently challenging Rep. James Langevin in the Democratic primary, but she lives in Kennedy’s district. The state’s primary is scheduled for Sept. 14.

Republicans already have one candidate in the race, state Rep. John Loughlin, who announced his candidacy earlier this year — well before anyone thought Kennedy might step down. However, now that the seat is open there will likely be more interest from Republicans.

One often-mentioned candidate is former Cranston Mayor Steven Laffey (R), who almost defeated then-Sen. Chafee in the 2006 GOP primary. Laffey is currently considering a gubernatorial bid, and Chafee, who went on to lose the general election in 2006, is now an Independent and is running for governor. State Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione also confirmed that he is looking at the race, and Republicans mentioned 1986 GOP candidate John Holmes could be interested in running and has a solid fundraising base that would make him a formidable candidate.

President Barack Obama carried the district with 65 percent in 2008, and it would take a combination of several factors for the Republicans to win the seat. Then again, as Republicans are first to point out, if a Republican can win the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D) seat in Massachusetts, then maybe they could do the same in Rhode Island.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement that he believes his party will keep the seat in November.

“We are confident that a Democrat who shares Congressman’s Kennedy commitment to public service, particularly during these difficult economic times, will continue to serve the 1st District with the same passion that Congressman Kennedy has throughout his tenure in Congress,” Van Hollen said.