Independent in a One-Party State

In Duverger's Law and the One-Party State, I suggested that locales with radically lopsided majorities in favor of one or the other duopoly parties may "witness the other devolve into a third party, fighting for second place with a party more in tune with the given electorate's sensibilities." A similar kind of dynamic may be at work in Rhode Island. It would be an understatement to say that RI is a solidly Democratic state. Though the Governor is a Republican, Democrats have a monopoly on its delegation in the US House and Senate. It's State Senate currently has 33 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 1 Independent, while its State House has 69 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

It is therefore not surprising that the Providence Phoenix is asking whether the party is over for the GOP in RI, unless, that is, we should be surprised that this is a question at all. The three page article contains little in the way of good news for partisan Republicans, but not for a lack of effort. Grassroots conservative activism is not dead in the Ocean State, it seems rather to be marshaling its forces outside of the duopoly political frame. In the 2008 elections, one 4000-strong group succeeded in electing Ed O'Neill to the State Senate as an independent. As Ballot Access News reported at the time, "he is the first independent elected to the Rhode Island Senate since 1964. He defeated the President of the Rhode Island Senate, and the outcome was a complete surprise to most observers." O'Neill's election will likely serve as a model for upstarts in future campaigns. Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee announced just last month that he will be running as an independent candidate for governor, and, as the Pheonix article notes, up-and-coming Republican politicians who do not see a bright future for themselves in a state where reality has a clear liberal bias may follow his lead.

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