Updated: Mar 6
The election for the Rhode Island Republican Party’s next leadership is set for later this month. Sue Cienki, the current party chair, is not seeking reelection, but will be running for national committeewoman.
Joe Powers, who ran as a Republican for Rhode Island Senate District 26 in 2022, is running to be the party’s next chairman.
Following Cienki’s announcement, Powers said he was mulling a run and thought to himself, “There might be an opportunity there for me to help out with the leadership skills that I’ve actually acquired over the years.”
Powers then decided he was going to run after talking with other people in the party and seeing what their thoughts were.
“After talking with my wife, talking with a few of my mentors, I finally decided this is what I was going to do because I know that the foundation that Chairwoman Cienki has actually created is going to allow us to continue to build, to build on a legacy that she has already put together, to be able to recruit more people and bring more people in and get a more solid party moving forward into the future,” Powers added.
Last November’s election saw a disappointing result for Republicans throughout the country. In Rhode Island, the efforts to flip the Second Congressional District did not happen. Republican Party officials have since begun to open up to utilizing methods such as mail-in ballots and early voting, tactics the Democrats used in both 2020 and 2022.
Powers explained that the party will need to use the tools they have in front of them such as embracing mail-in voting and early voting.
He said, “If we don’t like it, there’s not much we can do about it unless we’re in a position of power. So, it’s time to go to the sheath and pull out the tools that we need in order to make the changes in order to make it happen. So part of that is going to be use the tools that are available to us. Now whether that’s the early voting, whether it’s the mail-in ballot, you kind of have to use what you got available to you in order to get yourself to the point you can change it. And that’s not even to say in the future that it will change.”
Currently, 14% of Rhode Island’s nearly 722,000 active registered voters are Republicans. Powers wants to focus on reaching out to voters who are on the fence and are part of the state’s 45% of unaffiliated voters, saying, “Those are the people that we need to make sure that we target.”
Utilizing data that’s available is an overall part of Powers’ vision for 2024 if elected party chair. A race coming up before 2024 that he wants to focus on and collect data from is the soon-to-be special election for Rhode Island’s First Congressional District.
“It will be an uphill battle, but it’ll also allow us an opportunity to utilize the data that we have to help us identify the absolute right candidate,” Powers said. “What does that mean for 2024? It means a ton, because while we do it, we collect more data as we go forward to actually make our tweaks and our changes, so that the offices that do come back up in 2024, which will be General Assembly, it’ll give us the opportunity to use the data that we have to identify the absolute right candidates.”
The 2024 election, as was present in 2022, is expected to see younger voters vote in record numbers. Powers said the party will need to work on centralizing and getting their messaging out effectively when asked how Republicans can appeal to new voters such as Gen Z.
Before his time in politics, Powers served in the military for four years. After his service, Powers attended Rhode Island College.
“My experience going into college was slightly different than what most people is, and I enjoyed every second of it. I went to school for broadcast journalism, so I worked at the radio station, WXIN-FM,” Powers said. “I had fun, but again, I was 21 by the time I went to college, so I was that guy, the older guy at school. I did everything the exact thing I was supposed to do, I followed Hulk Hogan’s rules of engagement which is took my vitamins and said my prayers. I enjoyed it, I loved it, I loved everything about it. And ironically, having people in your class that weren’t from Rhode Island, it was kind of fun having them here, too and getting to show them around what an amazing place Rhode Island is.”
The election for party chair will take place on March 25. At the time of publication, Powers is the only candidate who has publicly announced. However, Giovanni Cicione, a former party chair, is expected to run as well.