Rhode Island Senate race may be in play, as media and political pros oblivious

If good presents come in small packages, the Rhode Island Senate race this year may be a great example for the GOP.  William Jacobson, the founder of Legal Insurrection and an astute political analyst who has spent many years in Rhode Island, writes that the Big Surprise of the 2016 election could be the defeat of incumbent Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

The Rhode Island Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse and Republican challenger Robert Flanders is not on anyone's radar as competitive.

It should be.

The Cook Political Report rates it a Safe Democrat seat. The Real Clear Politics profile of the race notes: "None of Whitehouse's opponents seem likely to defeat him."  There is no public polling of the race that I've been able to find, perhaps because none of the major polling organizations think it's worth the effort.

I can't blame these professional prognosticators for writing off the Rhode Island Senate race.  But I do disagree with them based on what I see on the ground here.

Jacobson's post is long and informative.  I recommend that your read the whole thing.  One factor that stands out, particularly in the wake of President Trump's election, is the degree to which the GOP is being positioned as the populist, anti-elite party, and the meaning of that in formerly deep blue states like Rhodie.

What I see in Rhode Island is a race that could shape up as a narrative of an undistinguished elitist highly-partisan professional politician from a wealthy blue blood family line obsessed with liberal issues not directly relevant to Rhode Islanders (Whitehouse) versus an independent non-politician from a working class background who rose to prominence in law through his own efforts, ultimately serving on the Rhode Island Supreme Court among other accomplishments (Flanders). ...

Flanders portrays himself as an "independent Republican," and is hitting Whitehouse right in the silver spoon. WPRI reported on his campaign announcement in November 2017:

Republican Robert Flanders kicked off his bid to become Rhode Island's next U.S. senator on Thursday, pledging to be a Republican who won't toe the party line while casting incumbent Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse as an out-of-touch elitist.

Flanders, 68, is a former R.I. Supreme Court associate justice and prominent local attorney.  He launched his campaign in Central Falls, a city he steered through municipal bankruptcy after then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee appointed him as its receiver in 2011.

"The reason I'm doing this is, like many of you I'm dissatisfied with the hyper-partisanship that we see down in Washington, D.C., these days," Flanders told a crowd of roughly 80 supporters at the event, held at a refurbished mill building in the city's historic district.  "The entrenched politicians who are there – there's too much finger-pointing and not enough handshaking going on.  We need problem-solvers."

Rhode Island may deserve a lot more attention, and by that I also mean donations, because its senators have exactly the same voting power as Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

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