Incumbent Rep. Jon Brien (D-Dist. 50) and his supporters launched a write-in campaign Thursday against Democratic primary victor Stephen Casey, defying the inauspicious history of such efforts with a mix of optimism and chagrin.
The last successful write-in campaign in RI was in 1990, according to Ian Donnis's blog, On Politics. Dist. 69 incumbent Mark Dailey failed to get enough votes to get on the ballot, and wound up running a write-in campaign against two other write-in candidates. Dailey won, but Brien's write-in effort faces an additional challenge: Casey is on the ballot.
Casey is on that ballot thanks to a 52 vote majority — hardly a resounding mandate, which gives Brien and his supporters confidence as they admit they could have done more during the primary.
"You know what? Shame on the group for doing things wrong, but you know what? We've got to work harder," said Jeanne Pepin-Budnick, co-owner of Pepin Lumber and a Brien supporter.
One of the reasons Pepin-Budnick wants to work harder is Brien's position on the supplemental tax bill. Though she said she knows a supplemental tax bill is inevitable, "I think with him, we're going to get a fair one," she said.
"To not see him on the House floor for the next two years would be a real travesty," said Richard Fagnant. Fagnant said Brien and his supporters don't need to rally a lot of votes to counter Casey's 52-vote majority. He admitted that assumes the same people from the primary will vote at the polls Nov. 6.
"He had a lot of things stacked up against him," Fagnant said, including switched polling places and union support for Casey.
Casey credited a dogged grass-roots effort and the support of his family, including his wife, father, brothers, uncles, and neices for his success. However, Golocalprov.com reported he also got some help from SEIU District 1199NE. The union, which represents about 4,000 RI health care workers, sent a mailer underlining Brien's role in legislation that allowed the state to loan $75 million to 38 Studios. The company's collapse this summer left RI taxpayers owing about $100 million in principal and interest, according to the Providence Journal.
Golocalprov.com reports Brien has said he didn't know the bill he sponsored was intended to benefit 38 Studios specifically. Most RI legislators have said they never got the opportunity to debate whether the bill, which set up the the Job Creation Guaranty Program, would send the lion's share of $125 million to 38 Studios. The claim rings true, according an analysis of the debacle posted by Politifact. But the mailer doesn't mention that.
Brien said he wasn't considering running a write-in campaign at all after losing the primary. "I just went out to pick up my lawn signs. I was OK," he said. But then he started getting calls from voters telling him not to give up, he said, and to keep running for Dist. 50. "And so, I decided, 'You know what, that's what I'm going to do,' " Brien said.
When asked about Casey's narrow victory and whether the people urging him to keep running could have done more to help him win the primary in the first place, Brien offered a rueful analysis. "I think that the narrative in the city was that Lisa (incumbent primary defender Lisa Baldelli-Hunt D-Dist. 49) was in trouble and I was OK," he said, which lulled supporters into a mistaken sense of security. But, "We live to fight another day and that's what we're going to do," Brien said.
During his speech, Brien asked voters to remember him at the voting booth, and to add his name in the space for Dist. 50, then fill in the arrow next to it. Brien also had a poster board with a sample write-in ballot from the most recent write-in campaign, an unsuccessful attempt by Bristol's Doug Gablinske in 2010 (see attached photo).