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McKee, Rhode Island’s Appointed Governor, Wins Democratic Nomination to Run for Seat

Rhode Island governor Daniel McKee has secured the Democratic nomination for his first full term in office, according to The Associated Press. Mr McKee, 71, overcame four challengers in a hard-fought primary with a focus on his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery.

Mr. McKee had served as the state’s lieutenant governor since 2015, and was first sworn in as governor in March 2021, when former governor Gina Raimondo resigned to join President Biden’s cabinet as secretary of commerce.

In the primaries he had been neck and neck with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, 55, with whom he was elected to a government position in 2014 and who drew from the same source. But it was Helena Foulkes, 58, a former CVS manager, who came in second after a late-breaking wave of momentum that followed strong debate and an endorsement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

His other opponents were Matt Brown, a former Rhode Island Secretary of State, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, a community activist.

mr. McKee will face Ashley Kalus, a Republican businesswoman and first-time candidate. A freshman, Zachary Hurwitz, also collected enough signatures to become independent.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ms. Gorbea had sought to become the first Latina elected governor in New England, drawing on her 30 years of experience as a community activist and nonprofit leader dedicated to addressing the state’s housing crisis, praised. She shocked the Rhode Island political world when she won her campaign for secretary of state in 2014 with little money or name recognition, and many expected her to do the same in the governor’s race.

But she stumbled after her campaign ran an attack ad about Mr. McKee citing an article by a conservative commentator. Her office too was heavily criticized after new touchscreen voting machines listed the wrong candidates on the Spanish-language ballot, leading to the discarding of more than 50 ballots.

The missteps gave a small opening to Mrs. Foulkes, who turned out to be a prolific fundraiser and whose mother was good friends with Mrs. Pelosi. “I just want to say one word to you,” Mrs. Pelosi said to a crowd of more than 200 people gathered in Providence on Sunday. “Helen.”

Mr. McKee, former mayor of the city of Cumberland, is not seen as a natural born politician and tends to stay behind the scenes in his political career. His campaign was clouded by state and federal investigations in a multimillion-dollar training consultancy contract that his administration awarded to the ILO Group, a consulting firm with which he is associated, and concluded two days after he took office.

But Mr. McKee had three factors that worked in his favor, said Adam Myers, an associate professor of political science at Providence College: a strong voter base in the Blackstone River Valley, the northeastern pocket of the state where he comes from; an ability to consolidate support from organized labor groups; and his calls to Latino voters.

mr. McKee had appointed Sabina Matos to replace him, making her the first Afro-Latin lieutenant governor and the first Dominican-American in the country to hold a government position. He also had a star endorser – his 94-year-old mother. She became a campaign sensation when she appeared in an advertisement playing cards with her son in oversized sunglasses.

In the ad, Mr. McKee defends his efforts to get the state through the pandemic, his abolition of the car tax and his signing of gun safety laws. She responds: “Not bad for a governor who lives with his mother.”