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Saturday November 28th, 2020 8:54AM

Rhode Island votes as the midterm primary season winds down

By The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's Democratic governor faced a spirited but poorly funded challenge in Wednesday's primary, while the mayor of the state's second-largest city was seeking the GOP nomination for another shot at the governor's seat in November. First, he had to defeat a state lawmaker making her first gubernatorial run.

Voters in Rhode Island were also selecting nominees for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, lieutenant governor and some key mayoral races in a rare Wednesday vote. Polls close at 8 p.m. EDT.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has been making the case for a second term by highlighting the state's improving economic fortunes, including a falling unemployment rate, as well as new job training programs and free community college tuition started during her tenure. Former Secretary of State Matt Brown, who last held office over a decade ago, has been pushing himself as the grassroots alternative, and has been hammering Raimondo for her close corporate ties.

Raimondo has raised $7.7 million, 20 times Brown's total.

In Providence, where there are a number of competitive primaries, turnout was steady throughout the day at several polling places. John O'Keeffe, who works in renewable energy development, said Raimondo has done a great job in her first term.

"She's made a lot of progress in this state, and the alternatives are not even close," he said.

Madrone Phoenix, 38, a school social worker who came to vote with her 1-year-old daughter in a carrier strapped to her chest, said Raimondo has done "an OK job," but she voted for Brown because he is unapologetic about standing up for working people and could shift the conversation.

"I like that he followed up with the Bernie Sanders campaign mission," she said.

On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung has tried to keep a low profile in the primary, putting out few detailed policy proposals, dodging questions about where he stands on various issues and agreeing to just one debate on a small radio station with limited reach. His opponent, Rep. Patricia Morgan, leads the tiny House minority caucus in the overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly.

Fung came in 4.5 points behind Raimondo in a three-way race in 2014.

Wednesday's winners are expected to face another three-way race Nov. 6, with former Republican lawmaker Joe Trillo, who chaired President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign in Rhode Island, running as an independent.

The most closely watched down-ticket race is for lieutenant governor, which pits incumbent Democrat Dan McKee against self-described progressive state lawmaker Aaron Regunberg. The position has few official duties, but officeholders have used it as a way to advance certain causes on a statewide level.

In congressional races, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. David Cicilline are not expected to face serious trouble in their primaries. Rep. Jim Langevin is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Nearly half of all 782,000 Rhode Island voters are unaffiliated with a party and may choose to vote in either primary. Around 308,000 voters are registered Democrats, while 92,000 are registered Republicans.

The secretary of state's office had no estimate of turnout for this year's primary, but the number in recent midterm primaries has hovered around 20 percent.

___

This story corrects the turnout of recent primaries, which was incorrect in earlier versions.

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