Could Clay Pell win the Democratic nomination for governor on Sept. 9?
No small number of people have scoffed at that suggestion. But with 50 days to go before the primary – and nearly $1 million in Pell TV ads saturating the airwaves – there’s reason to think the 32-year-old political newcomer has a real, if still unlikely, shot at victory.
The evidence for a Pell surge is anecdotal at this point because there’s been no public polling in the race since a May WPRI 12/Providence Journal survey that put Providence Mayor Angel Taveras at 33%, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo at 29% and Pell far behind at 12%. But WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducted the poll, suggested the next survey may show some movement.
“It seems like Clay Pell has finally got his act together, so to speak, in terms of getting a strong message out there about himself,” Fleming said. “I think the perception is that Clay Pell has moved his numbers upwards.”
Pell has spent months releasing policy proposals and stumping around Rhode Island. He has also put some distance between himself and the strange saga of his missing car, and continues to benefit from voters’ affection toward his late grandfather, U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, and his famous wife, Michelle Kwan.
Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island teacher’s union and a high-profile Pell supporter, was characteristically self-confident when asked about the state of the race. “I think it’s ultimately a horse race between Clay and Gina,” Walsh told WPRI.com on Monday.
Pell doesn’t have to win the primary to have a big impact on it. If he draws most of his support from liberal and union voters who would otherwise be inclined to back Taveras, he could theoretically draw enough votes to throw the race to Raimondo – though Pell backers chafe at suggestions he could play the role of spoiler.
Pell’s rising profile is in no small part thanks to the sizable financial resources of his campaign, which he is mostly funding out of his own wealth. Next week’s second-quarter financial report is expected to show that Pell recently made another huge cash infusion into the campaign, which could bring his personal investment in the race to more than $3 million.