RI gubernatorial race 2022: McKee challenged by Kalus

PROVIDENCE — Voters are deciding between Gov. Dan McKee, who is running for his first full term in the post he inherited in March 2021, and Rhode Island newcomer Ashley Kalus, his largely self-funded GOP opponent.

Results are expected to start rolling in shortly after polls close at 8 p.m.

McKee had a double-digit lead over Kalus in the latest public polls early last month. But both sides have spent a ton of money since then, fought in debates and found themselves embroiled in controversies. And both missed the state on Tuesday, making last-minute calls for votes.

Over the past few days, the Democratic Governors Association committed at least $260,000 to a final ad buy for McKee to bolster his support, as Kalus pumped an additional $1 million of his own money into his campaign.

Both sides ran a race of insider versus outsider.

On one side: McKee, 71, a longtime Rhode Islander who has been in public life since he was first elected to the city council in his hometown of Cumberland three decades ago, in goes on to become Mayor of Cumberland and then Lieutenant Governor. He became governor in March 2021 when Governor Gina Raimondo resigned mid-term and mid-pandemic to become U.S. Commerce Secretary, marking the first time since 1950 that a Rhode Island governor has resigned and Lt. governor took over.

On the other side: Kalus, 40, a recent in-state arrival who came here in 2021 to manage a COVID testing and vaccination contract that ended under disputed circumstances; registered to vote in January; announced for governor in March and poured $4.7 million of his family’s money into an aggressive campaign to unseat McKee.

He accused her of running for governor as revenge for losing the contract. She insisted that the time she and her husband spent in beautiful Rhode Island when he was in medical school made him want to come back permanently to fight “corruption, drug dealing insiders, abuse of power and incompetence”.

Gov. Dan McKee greets voters at a polling place in East Providence on Tuesday.

Her example: McKee’s deciding vote for up to $60 million in public funds for the Pawtucket football stadium project, which she called a “dirty behind-the-scenes deal.” He called it a catalyst for economic development in a city hungry for growth and still angry over the loss of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

But a closer look at Kalus’ story revealed that she and her husband benefited as recently as 2021 from a “property exemption” for Illinois residents that reduced her property taxes there. low while she was registered to vote in Florida. She did not end her voter registration in Florida until the day after her declaration as governor of Rhode Island in March.

And she left behind a series of legal battles in Florida and Illinois, including a lawsuit brought against her by a former business partner she had worked with in former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration in Illinois. The breach-of-contract lawsuit accuses Kalus and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig, of cheating the COO out of a salary — and a promised share of Adhereon, a company that marketed wound healing products and breast implants – and diverted assets to Kalus’ campaign.

Last week, months of rude texts that Kalus sent to a Chicago contractor with whom she had a billing dispute have surfaced. At one point, she ridicules him for wearing “Costco pants your mom picked out for you” and says, “And remember your social status here Mike.”

Republicans hoped voters would see the race as a referendum on McKee and his alleged missteps, regardless of anything they learned about newcomer Kalus’ story.

Their list of grievances was long: from the football stadium to the awarding of an education consulting contract that sparked an unresolved state and federal investigation, to the $3,000 “retention bonuses” he awarded to unionized state employees, to the dramatic raises he proposed and then reduced for members of his cabinet.

Ashley Kalus, the Republican challenger to Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee, stops at the Johnston High School poll on Tuesday.

The talkative Kalus also relied on the same national GOP script that fellow Republican Allan Fung relied on as a candidate for Rhode Island’s 2nd congressional district seat: that inflation drives up the food, gas and other energy prices, and the ruling Democrats — McKee and President Joe Biden — are to blame.

And if Twitter is any indication, Republicans in Rhode Island, who make up just over 15% of the electorate, and Republican-leaning independents were giddy about electing the first Republican for governor since Donald Carcieri left office 12 years ago with the 38 Studios debacle in his wake.

McKee survived a tough Democratic primary contest, beating two strong challengers — RI’s limited-time secretary of state Nellie Gorbea and former Rhode Island-based CVS executive Helena Foulkes — and two others. When it was over, Democrats and their traditional supporters, including state unions, rallied around McKee.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus boards her campaign bus after a stop at the Johnston High School polling station.

He did what he called a dynamic tour of Rhode Island, mentioning at almost every stop that Rhode Island went from “worst to first” in COVID-19 vaccinations, had one of the first economies to come out of the COVID abyss and one of its lowest recorded unemployment rates, although they have increased slightly in recent months.

He and his fellow Democrats have also come forward on the overriding issues that help voters distinguish between Republicans and Democrats on the ballot, including what they call “sense gun safety laws.” fire”. [and] a woman’s right to choose.”

There are also three lesser-known independent candidates on the gubernatorial ballot: Zachary Hurwitz, Paul Rianna and Elijah Gizzarelli.

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