Updated: Oct 16, 2022
It is t-minus 28 days until voters head to the polls for this year’s midterm elections. Nationally, the Republicans are expected to take control of the House of Representatives, with the U.S. Senate majority being a pure toss up. Locally, all the buzz is centered around Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District, and if Republicans can flip this seat or not.
This race has both garnered plenty of attention and became competitive for several reasons. Current Congressman Jim Langevin, RIC Alumnus ‘90, is retiring after representing Rhode Islanders in District 2 at Washington D.C. for 21 years. An open seat in politics typically makes that said race interesting, and this election is no different. Several candidates stepped in, containing both current and former elected officials, plus some newer faces. After September’s statewide primary, Treasurer Seth Magaziner won the Democratic nomination, while former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who was unopposed, won the GOP’s nomination.
Ever since Langevin announced he’s retiring, the national GOP have invested a lot of resources into efforts to flip this seat – amongst which included a visit from U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The pouring in of resources really kicked in once Fung announced he would run for congress, with the NRCC even naming him as one of their Young Gun candidates.
National Republicans see this as one of the many seats they can pick up to secure a House majority. However, Magaziner and the Democrats are putting up a fight. Magaziner has secured support from all of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, which includes Langevin. Former Republicans are throwing their support behind Magaziner, too. This is where the competitiveness really kicks into full gear.
Magaziner is highlighting key issues such as abortion rights, gun violence prevention and the claim Fung would vote for a Republican House leadership that wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. Fung is centering his campaign on pocketbook issues such as rising inflation, rising gas prices and ensuring the U.S. becomes energy independent.
These candidates’ differences in what they’ll prioritize as a congressman are making its way into television airwaves. Fung’s campaign has released three TV ads so far focusing on the kitchen table issues. And Magaziner’s campaign has released multiple TV ads focused on his aforementioned priorities while also attempting to tie Fung to former President Donald Trump – going as far as to making a website called factsaboutfung.com. The website also uses a photo of Fung from 2017 that shows him wearing a “Trump” hat.
Both candidates are obtaining national support. McCarthy’s super PAC bought television spots in an attempt to tie Magaziner, and his brand of politics, to a wealthy, elite class. Alongside McCarthy’s visit, former New Jersey Gov. and potential 2024 presidential candidate, Chris Christie, came to Federal Hill on Monday to campaign with Fung.
Current polling data tells an interesting story of where this race is at with 28 days until Nov. 8. This past Summer, Fung led Magaziner by 6.4% in a Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll. That lead was maintained in a recent WPRI/Roger Williams University poll, showing Fung up by 6%. A second poll for this race by Boston Globe/Suffolk University shows Fung up by 8%, getting support from 54% of independent voters that responded. Polling and key endorsements aside, there are several wildcards to consider before polls close in four weeks.
Roe v. Wade being overturned in June has shifted the national environment from a likely Republican wave election, to a more neutral year. How much that affects Fung’s odds remains to be seen. Can Moderate party candidate William Gilbert maintain the 4-5% of voters he’s gotten in these polls is another question being raised. Where Fung can garner his support from is another key variable. Fung, for reference, outright won the district in his 2014 gubernatorial campaign and came close in 2018, a Democratic wave year. But President Joe Biden did win the district, and despite being friendlier to Republicans then District 1, it’s still a fundamentally blue seat. This could create a tough path for Fung unless he has a strong showing in the cities of Cranston and Warwick – two areas containing lots of votes. Lastly, there is a comparison between Fung and then-Republican U.S. Senator Lincoln Chaffee’s re-election bid in 2006. Chaffee was moderate, like Fung, and popular, but the prospect of a Republican Senate majority aided Sheldon Whitehouse’s campaign in unseating him.
This race, as of right now, has plenty of variables that could determine who wins. But based on polling data, national resources being utilized and no incumbent on the ballot, it’s very possible that Rhode Island could elect a Republican to this district. If Fung is elected, he’d be the first Republican to represent District 2 since Congresswoman Claudine Schneider, who served from 1981 to 1991.