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Rhode Island Bottleneck Could Tighten by 2022

It says everything about the state of the GOP in Rhode Island that the last Republican to hold federal office there, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, became a Democrat in 2013.

But there are few states that present as little opportunity for the politically ambitious of either party as Rhode Island, and the avenues could shrink soon. Republicans see a difficult path to win any federal office, and Democrats are bracing for a bottleneck within their own delegation, thanks to the potential loss of a House seat through reapportionment after the 2020 census.

For now, and likely for the next eight years, the state’s delegation is composed of four Democrats.

“The Republican establishment has not been effective at organizing, fundraising or presenting a credible challenge to the incumbents at the congressional level,” Democratic consultant Ray Sullivan said of his party’s domination.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, 58, coasted to a second term in 2012. Sen. Jack Reed, 64, is seeking a fourth term this year and facing marginal competition.

So Democratic operatives in the state must look a good distance down the road for Senate successors.

Democrats suggested as possible Senate contenders one day: Rep. David Cicilline, state General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, veteran Clay Pell, investment fund manager Seth Magaziner, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and former secretary of State candidate Guillaume de Ramel. Raimondo, Taveras and Pell are currently running for governor. Pell is the grandson of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell and he is the husband of ice skater Michelle Kwan.

Republicans are realistic about the odds against the party winning a Senate seat in the near future. Still, they argue that Rhode Island has room for a socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican to give the party a shot. They have great faith in state Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty. He came up 12 points short against Cicilline in 2012, but Republicans say he still has a political future.

“He’s not done,” one Rhode Island Republican operative said.

Then there are the state’s two House seats. Before operatives can look down the road for future talent, they worry about what could happen in eight years. If current demographic changes hold, it’s likely that Rhode Island could lose a seat after the next census, so an intraparty member-vs.-member race in 2022 is possible.

When pushed to name up-and-comers, Democrats point to Roberts, attorney Laura Pisaturo and state Sen. Joshua Miller as potential contenders to someday replace Rep. Jim Langevin.

At 49, Langevin is the youngest member of the delegation and he is not expected to retire anytime soon. Still, if that seat opened, it is the more competitive of the two districts. Rhode Island Republicans say state Senate Deputy Minority Leader Dawson T. Hodgson, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung are on the bench in this area.

If any cycle proved just how difficult the 1st District is for Republicans, it was 2012. Cicilline, then a freshman, faced a legitimate race thanks in part to revelations of Providence’s financial issues stemming from his time as mayor.

“You’re never going get a worse incumbent situation than Cicilline,” one Rhode Island Republican said.

Republicans fielded a top recruit, Doherty, and invested heavily in the race. But Cicilline coasted to re-election. If that seat opened up, potential Democratic contenders include Pell, Magaziner and state Reps. Chris Blazejewski and Patrick O’Neill. Republicans say that in an open-seat race, state House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry has a shot at the seat.

Operatives in the state mentioned another up-and-comer, U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha. He was appointed by President Barack Obama, but his political affiliation remains a mystery.

Farm Team is a weekly state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.

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