By David Gaffen
(Reuters) – Rhode Island Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo turned back a challenge from her party’s left-wing flank in the state’s nominating contests on Wednesday, advancing her bid to win a second term in office in November’s general election.
Raimondo, 47, a former venture capitalist, had about 56 percent of the vote with most precincts counted in the heavily Democratic state. Her main opponent, Matt Brown, an anti-nuclear activist and former state secretary of state, polled about 34 percent.
Rhode Island tends to favor Democrats at the state and federal levels, but Raimondo’s approval levels are below 50 percent, according to public polling.
Raimondo, the first woman to serve as Rhode Island governor, will face Republican nominee Allan Fung, the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, whom she defeated in a three-way race in 2014, and Joseph Trillo, a former Republican state legislator running as an independent.
Polling suggests the general election could be close. Election prediction firms rate it as either “likely” or “leans” Democratic.
Leftist Democrats have been gaining momentum in nominating contests for the Nov. 6 elections in which the party is seeking to regain control of the U.S. Congress and bolster its representation in state governments across the country, where Republicans control a majority of governorships and legislatures.
Several challenges to centrist Democratic governors have fallen short, but voters have chosen candidates who ran from the left in Democratic gubernatorial nominating contests in Georgia and Florida.
Among Democratic congressional candidates who have pulled off upsets are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, who both defeated longtime incumbents in primaries in New York and Massachusetts and have promised to target Republican President Donald Trump’s policies.
Raimondo campaigned on her fiscal management efforts as state treasurer to win the governorship in 2014, but some of the measures have since stirred a backlash.
Brown criticized Raimondo’s decision to overhaul the state’s underfunded pension plans when she was treasurer in 2011, cutting pension payments to save billions, which angered some retirees.
Rhode Island’s contests on Wednesday were the second-to-last before November, with New York remaining on Thursday. In New York’s Democratic state primary on Thursday, activist and former “Sex and the City” co-star Cynthia Nixon is challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo.
(Reporting by David Gaffen in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)