Strategic Focus for a Civic Resurgence

Something RIGOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki told the team on WPRI's Newsmakers brought John DePetro and I to a mild disagreement during our Monday segment on his show, yesterday.

In a quick exchange, Cienki told reporter Ted Nesi that the party currently has no plans to run a candidate against U.S. Senator Jack Reed.

My view is that's entirely correct.  Election after election, I've watched people come from out of nowhere to run for national offices, use up resources and time, and then disappear after they lose.  Every time, I've wondered how things might have been different if they'd used those resources and that time to run for something more attainable, like seat on a town council, school committee, or the statewide legislature.

John had a compelling counterpoint, suggesting that there has to be somebody on the ticket, if only to give voters a way to vote against the incumbent and to be available if something unexpected happens, like an illness or a scandal.  For those reasons, it might make sense to have party regulars just put in their names, without the accoutrements of a full campaign.

Whether or not that approach could play out, the focus of the insurgent party in Rhode Island should be on rebuilding.  Cienki characterizes this as the development of a "farm team," which is important, but the more-crucial change is structural.  Right now, there is no reasonable path for Republicans to national office from Rhode Island, so those who want to try for it just go straight for the prize.

As it stands, even a majority on a town council is a project of four or five election cycles (that is, eight to 10 years), leaving little wonder why ambitious Rhode Island Republicans try to go straight to Washington, D.C.  If they had a reasonable shot at a local office on the first try, followed by a fighting chance for the General Assembly, they might direct their energies at the local level as a starting point.  That would shorten the reasonable path to Congress to 10-12 years, rather than 20-to-infinity years.

Meanwhile, the state would benefit from their local involvement, because they'd by necessity be bringing together and helping to advance neighbors who aren't interested in going past either the local or state levels.

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