Allan Fung, a Republican House candidate in Rhode Island, is positioning himself to benefit from a red wave nationally that could wash over even the deep blue Ocean State.
Congressional Democrats have long weathered red waves in Rhode Island, which in 2020 voted 59% for President Joe Biden to 39% for former President Donald Trump. But the surprise announcement in January by 21-year congressional Democratic veteran Rep. Jim Langevin that he will retire from the state’s lighter blue of its two districts, in a fraught year for Democrats, has given the GOP a pickup opportunity.
The 2nd Congressional District covers southern and western Rhode Island. House Republicans need to net five seats in the 435-member chamber to reclaim the majority the party lost in 2018.
Fung brings to the race ample name recognition from his 2009-2021 tenure as mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island's second-largest city, and a reputation for governing as a centrist.
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“'I’m not running to be hyperpartisan in this election or bring even more hyperpartisanship to Washington, D.C.,” Fung told the Washington Examiner. “I want to be a voice of moderation, just like I've been in Cranston, addressing the problems that are really hitting us in our wallets and pocketbooks.”
Fung, who ran unsuccessfully for Rhode Island governor in 2014 and 2018, does not have the Republican nomination to himself. He'll face former state Rep. Bob Lancia, who ran unsuccessfully in 2020 against Langevin for the 2nd Congressional District seat. Redistricting made minimal changes to apportionment in the state.
Fung is likely the most electable Republican candidate in a state that still favors Democrats.
“The thing that he offers is, he offers a respectable, middle-of-the-road Republican alternative,“ Maureen Moakley, political science professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island, told the Washington Examiner. “It's an uphill battle, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.”
The last Republican to represent the district was former Rep. Claudine Schneider, from 1981-1991. Lincoln Chafee was the last Republican the state sent to Washington. He was a senator for seven-plus years but was ousted by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in the 2006 Democratic wave. Chafee was subsequently elected governor as an independent and then became a Democrat.
Moakley believes Democrats risk losing the seat if they move too far left. Polling indicates that General Treasurer of Rhode Island Seth Magaziner is the clear front-runner in the Democratic primary, which takes place on Sept. 13 along with the Republican contest. Magaziner is a battle-tested politician who handily won two statewide elections to become treasurer.
BREAKING: New @wpri12 @myRWU poll finds @SethMagaziner starts Dem RI-02 primary at 33% vs. single-digits for rivals— Ted Nesi (@TedNesi) May 17, 2022
But *50%* of primary voters are up for grabs
"The big winner in CD2 is — undecided," jokes our pollster Joe Fleming (story w/ @TimWhiteRI) https://t.co/lXPGCmm214
Fung lost both of his statewide bids for governor to Democrat Gina Raimondo, which took place the same years as Magaziner’s victories. Fung is hoping to learn from that experience and emphasized that he did “extremely well” in the 2nd District during those elections.
As a candidate, Fung has staked out centrist positions on some key issues. He has expressed opposition to late-term abortions but also total bans and has sought to paint himself as a consensus-builder, highlighting his cooperation with Democrats when they controlled the Cranston City Council.
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Ironically, Fung began his political career as a Democrat. He had been a member of the College Democrats of America and approached the party about running for a seat on the Cranston City Council in 2002 at the age of 32. But the party rebuffed him, informing him that they did not have a slot for him.
Fung was distraught with the way his hometown Cranston was being managed. The city had a rapidly deteriorating financial outlook at the time, with Fitch Ratings downgrading its credit rating. Fung was eager to attain a seat on the council to help right the ship. After being cast aside by the Democrats, he had coffee with Randy Valenti, a Republican Party official who talked Fung into running for the council as a Republican.
“I've always been, you know, fiscally conservative, especially coming from a small business background,” Fung said. “A lot of those principles is what Randy and I shared. We had a good discussion, and that’s what I see in what I delivered during my time as mayor.”
Fung went on to win that race, planting the seeds for his rise to mayor in the 2008 election. As mayor, Fung took aim at the city’s fiscal woes, addressing pension funding and other politically dicey issues. By 2016, the city had made the Wall Street Journal’s list of “America’s 50 Best Cities to Live” for the third time in a row.
Now, he sees a similar situation with the country’s fiscal picture and hopes to help tackle the unbridled inflation and surging energy prices stinging the nation.
“I see a lot of similar fiscal problems facing this crisis, with a lot of policies that have been put in place by not only the Biden administration but by the Pelosi Congress,” Fung said. “With the basic cost of living crisis, where we're paying skyrocketing gas prices, home heating oil prices, groceries, and there’s even labor shortages.”
Fung is also concerned about elevated crime, particularly in urban regions of the country. When he visits friends in New York City, he refrains from using the subway due to concerns over anti-Asian violence in the city and opts for an Uber instead.
“It's an eerie feeling. You know, when you're there. It's a different feeling, and I'm more cautious and guarded because of what is still happening in some of our urban areas,” Fung said. “I think it's a lot of these crazy, extreme progressive policies where they're focusing on defund the police. … I will always do what's right to make sure that there's the proper investments in our law enforcement.”
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Magaziner has swiped at Fung over a photo of him wearing a winter beanie at Trump's inauguration in 2017. The image has haunted him, as the former president remains deeply unpopular in the state. Fung has sought to steer clear of political food fights with the former president but has not been an ardent supporter of him publicly either.
“He is putting that out there because he wants to distract from the real issues that are on the minds of people,” Fung said. “I have not heard of any sound solutions to really help many of our residents, and that's why he wants to roll, you know, that old photo out.”
Magaziner raised roughly $1.4 million during the first quarter of 2022, dwarfing Fung’s $502,000, per the Providence Journal. If Fung is able to pull off an upset victory, it would mirror his wife Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung’s 2020 triumph, in which she ousted Democratic Speaker Nick Mattiello in a state House race. It was the first time a sitting speaker of the General Assembly had suffered an electoral defeat in over 114 years.