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RI and the presidential race

RI Future's Matt Jerzyk offers a look in this week's Phoenix at how the campaigns of the Democratic presidential contenders are shaping up in Rhode Island, as well as the role that the state will play in electing the next president:

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On an overcast night in early June, nearly 100 of US Senator Barack Obama’s local supporters crowded into the Peerless Lofts in downtown Providence, watching campaign videos, writing checks, and signing up to volunteer. They listened intently as Obama’s brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, the basketball coach at Brown University, among other speakers, described why Obama is the best presidential candidate. The excitement — the sense that an important presidential election is just around the corner — was palpable.
 
Even though the first contests to determine the presidential nominees are six months away, and the general election is more than 16 months away, Rhode Islanders are in the thick of an already heated battle. In the last year, we’ve had visits from the Democratic frontrunners — Obama and US Senator Hillary Clinton — as well as Bill Clinton and John Edwards. These visits have helped spur more than $360,000 in presidential campaign contributions from Rhode Islanders during the first quarter of 2007.
 
Rhode Island was poised to make itself even more politically relevant by joining several states moving their presidential primaries up to February 5, just weeks behind contests in Iowa (January 14); Nevada (January 19); New Hampshire (January 22); and Florida and South Carolina (January 29). To the surprise of many political observers, the bill to move up the date passed the Senate, but was never taken up in the House. According to one Democratic insider, the bill died since its sponsor, Senator Leonidas Raptakis (D-Coventry), rebelled against the Democratic leadership by voting against the state budget and the override of Governor Carcieri’s budget veto. As a result, Rhode Island’s primary remains slated for March 4, 2008.
 
“The best-case scenario for Rhode Island is that the nomination stays competitive prior to our March primary,” says Bill Lynch, chairman of the state Democratic Party, “and then we would play an important role in a close race. The question is whether this will happen. Most people don’t think so.”
 
Still, even though Rhode Island, with just four, is tied for the ninth-least amount of electoral votes, the state is hardly on the sidelines. On the contrary, local Democratic political activists in the bluest of blue states are busily working even now, trying to help engineer the kind of victory that will mark the end of the Bush presidency and set a new course for the nation.

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