R.I. businessman exploring GOP bid for governor’s office
PROVIDENCE - A businessman who may be the Republicans’ best hope for the governor’s race next year is drawing inevitable comparisons to current Governor Don Carcieri.
And those show the promise - and peril - of a potential candidacy for Riordon “Rory’’ Smith.
Both Smith and Carcieri are graduates of Ivy League schools and spent their careers as business executives. They live about 2 miles apart in East Greenwich, a wealthy Republican bastion. Much like when Carcieri first ran, Smith has never held government office, is a little-known fiscal conservative, and carries a blank political record.
Despite living in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly four-to-one, the GOP has held onto the governor’s seat for 20 of the last 24 years. Carcieri, a political newcomer, won office in 2002 by appealing to independent voters with promises to control state spending, create jobs, and fight corruption.
But only 36 percent of voters said the once-popular governor was doing an excellent or good job, according to a Brown University poll of nearly 600 people. A bitter recession has pushed unemployment to 13 percent and put the state budget deep in the red. Meanwhile, Carcieri has found himself at an impasse with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Bill Lynch, chairman of the state Democratic Party, calls Smith a “Don Carcieri clone.’’
“It’s the exact same bill of goods that Carcieri sold Rhode Island,’’ Lynch said. “I think that’s a very hard sell in Rhode Island at this point.’’
Republican leaders are still searching for a candidate even though the race has essentially begun. Democratic General Treasurer Frank Caprio and Attorney General Patrick Lynch, the brother of Bill Lynch, are aggressively raising money. Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator, is considering a run as an independent.
Smith, 48, has not yet committed to the race, and said he will decide whether to run in the next few weeks.
“People have approached me about running for governor,’’ Smith said in a brief phone interview. “I’m seriously considering it.’’
Smith lives in East Greenwich with his wife and two teenage children. He played lacrosse at Amherst College and was a coach and past president of the East Greenwich Lacrosse Association, a recreation league for youth, said Jon Soule, the league’s current president.
He has only been a Republican permanently since changing his voter registration last month, according to town records. In 1994, he registered as an independent, or unaffiliated voter, after moving to East Greenwich from Massachusetts.
He voted in Republican primaries, but would disaffiliate from the party after the election.
His only recorded political contribution was a $100 check written last year to Mayor David Cicilline of Providence, a Democrat who at the time was himself weighing a run for governor. Cicilline eventually decided to seek another term as mayor.
Jon Scott, a former Republican candidate for Congress, described Smith as a fiscal conservative worried about the state’s finances. He spoke with Smith at a Republican breakfast in East Greenwich and later at a fund-raiser for a conservative think tank.
“He believes in keeping taxes low,’’ said Scott, who added that Smith did not get into specifics. “He believes in creating a better environment for middle-class jobs. He seems to believe in retaining some of our academic talent in the state here.’’
Business themes would play to Smith’s biography. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he worked since 2000 at Nautic Partners, a private equity firm. Nautic office manager David Gillon said Smith retired last year, although a receptionist said he still keeps an office there.