In Rhode Island, Democratic Primary Is Pension Referendum

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Candidates Out to Prove They Can Win Union Support for Tough Changes.

Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Rhode Island governor is emerging as a referendum on how to tackle rising pension costs as the candidates clash over their approaches to a problem bedeviling elected officials around the U.S.

Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo

Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo is trumpeting a 2011 state overhaul she spearheaded that sharply curtailed retirement benefits and rankled unions, while Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is lauding a city pension fix he championed that wasn’t as aggressive and eventually won labor support.

The race is too close to call ahead of Tuesday’s vote, said polling firm Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. Its most recent voter survey conducted in August showed Ms. Raimondo with 32% support as compared with 27% for Mr. Taveras and 26% for the third major candidate, Clay Pell, the grandson of a late U.S. senator. Roughly 13% of voters were undecided, which could sway the outcome. Local observers expect a high turnout.

The campaign in Rhode Island is being closely watched around the country as a test of whether voters in a Democratic stronghold are willing to support dramatic reductions in public-employee benefits. The winner will face the Republican candidate in November. The last time Rhode Island selected a Democrat to occupy the governor’s seat was in 1992. Current Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who was elected as an independent and later became a Democrat, isn’t running again.

A victory for Ms. Raimondo, who oversees the state’s pension fund, “will suggest a Democrat can take a hard line on pensions and still survive politically,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

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