The Republican Center is growing in power in New England

And he’s not alone: ​​Fung is among a small group of centrists seeking to revive the New England Republican mantle in the House. They’re largely shunning Trump and social conservatism, hitting their Democratic adversaries at record prices, and betting inflation worries for everything from heating oil to fertilizer will echo through the region’s mix of small working-class towns, of wealthy suburbs and family farms.

In Connecticut, there’s George Logan, a former state senator who once pulled off an upset against a 24-year-old Democratic incumbent. Further down I-95, former Navy officer Mike France confronts the incumbent Democratic representative. Joe Courtney. Up north, a familiar face is looking for a return: former Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, who had been the House GOP’s only New Englander until he lost his re-election bid in 2018.

Fung, who playfully posed with locals dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers outside a police department-sponsored festival, personally disowned another Trump presidential run. He blames climate change for the state’s recent flooding. He would not support a nationwide ban on abortion or LGBT rights, but would have backed Congress’s bipartisan gun safety agreement this summer.

“Whether it’s abortion, guns, economics, everything, I don’t fit their narrative,” said Fung, who is seeking to succeed the retired representative. Jacques Langevin (DR.I.). He led all potential Democratic rivals by double digits in a June poll from Suffolk University.

Instead, the former mayor’s platform is largely focused on inflation. And he’s not the only one using this playbook, betting that an unpopular Biden White House has pissed off enough independents — who make up the majority of New England’s electoral rolls — and even Democrats to put down. the GOP at your fingertips here.

“I’ve heard from moderate Democrats many times that the Democratic Party has left them,” said Logan, a GOP rookie who would also be one of the region’s first Afro-Latino representatives. “This is where a moderate Republican offers an alternative.”

This year, many Republicans say their success in those blue neighborhoods will be a flag for the national GOP as it tries to ride a potential red wave. New England could also get a glimpse of how the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy could rule as president if his party regains control of the chamber – heavy on the economy, less on divisive social issues.

McCarthy and his team pay close attention to these races: He just finished a swing weekend in New England, raising funds with Logan and Fung.

In Maine, independents left Biden “in droves,” Poliquin observed, adding that voters are looking for “common sense Republicans” this fall. He recounted the price increases he saw: heating oil tripled, gas doubled, milk rose about 20%. Even beer, he said, is up 25%.

“Everyone feels it,” said Poliquin, who described himself as “center-right” but ready to work with Biden for the next two years.

But since Trump left office, moderates across the map have seen their ranks shrink. The House GOP has shown that it is often more interested in playing hardball than working across the aisle. That means Republicans who oppose the party — whether voting against infrastructure money or opposing efforts to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — find themselves without a seat.

Fung said he was not shaken by the grassroots backlash his centrist colleagues have received for backing bipartisan bills: “You have to stick to your decisions. I’m not afraid to make a decision and do what’s good for everyone.

Notably, even though he pledged to work with Democrats, Fung also said if he won in November, he would likely vote to hand McCarthy the House leader. (Logan said he supports the current slate of GOP leaders, but has not yet committed to anyone to speak.)

Among the Democrats Fung is expected to partner with is Rhode Island’s other House member, Rep. David Cicilline, who, like much of his party, publicly rejects Fung’s chances of overturning the siege. Despite Fung’s kind energy, Democrats point out that he would still back a GOP leadership team that veers sharply to the right. (Current Democratic primary front-runner Seth Magaziner likes to remind voters of this in tweet a photo of Fung in a Trump-branded winter hat.)

“Probably the biggest thing going against,” Fung said, Democratic state Sen. Mark McKenney, is that most Rhode Island voters here don’t want to cede control of the House to Republicans.

Other Ocean state Democrats, however, are more blunt about Fung’s outlook.

“He’s a candidate everyone should take seriously,” the senator said. Sheldon White House (DR.I.), who was Fung’s boss decades ago when he was state attorney general.

Early polls here hinted at Fung’s high popularity after 12 years as mayor, along with several others on city council. Even Republicans acknowledge the race will narrow before November, though many still feel optimistic.

Strolling through Rocky Point Park along Narragansett Bay here, Fung could barely take a few steps without voters stopping to say hello or wish him luck. Fung joked that it’s easier for voters to recognize him as the first elected Asian American mayor in the state; he would also be the first Asian American member of Congress.

Many said they liked Fung being a lifelong Rhode Islander, unlike some of his potential opponents. The Republican talks about his sister’s life with a disability and his mother’s reliance on Medicare — who, like the senator. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Fung would expand to cover vision care, dental care and hearing aids. Some also know his wife, Barbara Ann Fenton, a GOP state legislator who ousted the Speaker of the House two years ago.

“I hope he wins the seat,” said Pamela Dennen, a 51-year-old business owner from Warwick, RI Dennen said she was not party-affiliated but praised Fung for understanding that they lived in a “working class”. community, wedged between two wealthy enclaves” — Massachusetts and Connecticut.

It helps, said Dennen, that she regularly sees Fung around town, even meeting him at his favorite grocery store.

Another factor in Fung’s favor, for now: Although he’s essentially cleared the ground on the GOP side, the Democrats won’t choose their nominee for another month.

Magaziner, the state treasurer, is Langevin’s handpicked successor, but faces a formidable challenge from former Commerce Department official Sarah Morgenthau. The 2nd District “has always been competitive,” Magaziner claims.

And it’s full of voters like Hope Nelson. The 74-year-old Warwick resident declined to share her party affiliation, saying she had not yet decided who she would vote for in November but said Fung’s “reputation is excellent”.

“I just think it’s time to make a change,” Nelson said, reflecting on national leadership.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed.


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