By Katherine Gregg
For the second time in his political life, Allan Fung, the son of Chinese immigrants and four-term mayor of Cranston, has captured the Republican nomination to run for governor.
With 414 of 416 precincts reporting, the 48-year-old Fung, who lost his first bid for governor to Democrat Gina Raimondo in 2014, was comfortably ahead of Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan and former Alex & Ani CEO Giovanni Feroce in Wednesday's GOP primary. Fung had 56.5 percent of the votes to 40.1 percent for Morgan and 3.4 percent for Feroce, who launched his bid while entangled in lawsuits stemming from his last business venture.
Appearing before his cheering supporters, Fung, 48, said: "We are only seven weeks away from bringing fundamental and massive reform to Smith Hill...Seven weeks from reversing the horrific incompetence of the Raimondo administration that has failed our seniors and our most vulnerable children."
"Enough is enough," he said. "We can do better than Raimondo's Rhode Island."
Fung ran on promises to scrap Raimondo's company-specific tax-incentive programs, cut the state's 7-percent sales tax to 5 percent, and take a hard line against immigrants in the country illegally and the state's Democrat-rich "sanctuary cities." He now heads into the Nov. 6 general election facing the winner of the Democratic primary, and others including Republican-turned-independent Joe Trillo.
Morgan promised a more modest sales tax cut. She promised to pull the plug on Raimondo's new trucks-only highway tolls. She also sought to shore up her GOP bona fides by promising to hire former Attorney General Arlene Violet as the state's first inspector general and 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille as her commerce secretary.
But the dominant issue in the GOP primary race -- and the only one that seemed to catch fire on the talk radio circuit -- was Fung's refusal to take part in any TV debates. Morgan stood in front of Cranston City Hall, next to man dressed in a chicken suit, asking: "Is that Al the debate chicken?" The "debate chicken" had its own Twitter account.
Theatrics aside, the Republican competitors seemed to agree more than they disagreed on core Republican Party issues.
While declining for months to answer questions about the many controversies engulfing President Trump, the Fung campaign in July released selected results from an internal poll that touted his standing among Trump voters in blue-state Rhode Island.
The polling memo from Public Opinion Strategies said Fung, at that point, had the support of 64 percent of Donald Trump voters; 70 percent of "right-to-life voters," and 64 percent of "2A voters," which means gun-rights supporting voters who, as a rule, oppose any new gun control action by the Rhode Island legislature.
Feroce's comment at the time: "My campaign has been one of deliberate strategy of staying in third place until all candidates have been identified for the ballot. My next step is to surpass Rep. Morgan by mid August and then focus on Mayor Fung."
Morgan, who has in recent years led the tiny House GOP bloc at the State House, tried to paint Fung as a "Democrat" in disguise who only ran as a Republican the first time because the "Democratic city committee rejected him," and then, "sponsored and voted for efforts to ban assault weapons" as a city councilman. (Fung, who no longer supports an assault-weapons ban, says his views have evolved.)
Fung largely ignored his opponents. The only debate in which he took part was on a Woonsocket-based radio station with limited reach.
Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer -- who grew up in Rhode Island -- handed Fung his only high-profile national GOP endorsement. "Part of the reason I am home is I was pleased to come in to support Allan Fung. He's just a great friend and beyond a great friend, a great leader in Cranston," Spicer told WPRO -radio.
Feroce endorsed Fung Wednesday night after the votes were tallied. Asked if she would do the same, Morgan said: "Not tonight. I'm tired."
In 2014, Raimondo beat Fung with 40.7 percent of the vote to 36.2 percent for him and 21.4 percent for the late Robert J. Healey, running for governor that year under the Moderate Party banner.
(c)2018 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)