By PAUL J. SPETRINI &
NORTH KINGSTOWN– After a summer of contentious debate, the battle between incumbent Larry Ehrhardt and political newcomer Sharon Gamba comes to an end Tuesday afternoon as voters in North Kingstown will head to the polls and choose one of the two as the Republican nomination for the District 32 race.
While Ehrhardt and Gamba can’t agree on many of the issues that define their race, there’s one thing neither side disputes: The battle to challenge presumptive Democratic nominee Robert E. Craven, Sr. in November’s general election will likely come down to the wire.
“Well, I think we’re in good shape,” said Ehrhardt. “One of the advantages of having campaigned for the same office a number of times is you really develop a pretty good familiarity or acquaintance with your voter base and for the most part, I’ve gotten a very good reception from people who I’ve known and who have voted for me for a number of years so I’m feeling very good about it.”
“The more I go door-to-door, the more convinced and certain I am that I should have this position,” Gamba countered. “I can see that there are people who are troubled, there are people who are afraid of losing their house because they may not be able to afford their property tax, they’re worried about their kids leaving Rhode Island because there are no jobs. I live all of that … and that’s what sets me apart from Larry.”
Ehrhardt and Gamba have been locked in a war of words ever since filing their nomination papers earlier this summer.
The former has campaigned on his experience advantage over the inexperienced Gamba, who herself says she is new to the political game, and has received a strong show of support from local Republican leaders like Senator Dawson Hodgson and Republican Town Committee chairman Curtis Givan.
But Gamba has received her votes of support as well, largely from local business owners and residents who feel it’s “time for a change” from the incumbent seeking his fifth term in office.
The biggest point of contention between the two sides relates to Gamba’s alleged ties to the auto body industry as the co-owner of Cranston Collision Center with her husband Dennis.
Gamba says her relationship as an owner of a direct-repair auto shop helps her understand how business works in Rhode Island. Her opponents question her motivations for getting elected given a recently defeated bill that would have changed the relationship between auto body shops and insurance companies, a bill Ehrhardt opposed.
Still, both Ehrhardt and Gamba say that’s not the only difference between the two sides.
“What is different between him and I?,” Gamba said. “The fact that I answer my phone calls and my email. I would have an open-door policy because that’s just my personality. I have way more energy and heart than he could ever think of having and I don’t mean that in a bad way … I am one of those people who just does not stop. He may have all these degrees but I live it and breathe [small business] every single day. I know and do things that he couldn’t possibly know or do.”
“I think when you compare our resumes, there really is no comparison in terms of knowledge and experience,” Ehrhardt said. “I think having that knowledge and experience just puts you in a position to be that much more an effective legislature.”
Other Contested Races
The Democrats will also see a primary challenge to the Second Congressional District seat presently held by James Langevin. Langevin has held the current seat since 2000, serving on several committees and caucuses, including the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Langevin recently announced that Rhode Island will receive $250,000 to assist Rhode Island Family Caregivers. The funding was garnered under the Lifespan Respite Care Act, previously co-authored by Langevin. The State has received $519,000 from the program.
Challenger, John O. Matson,(Dem.) is a realtor and carpenter by profession. A native Rhode Islander, Matson resides in Hopkinton where he served on the Town Council from 2004 - 2006. Matson previously challenged Langevin for the seat, running in 2010 as an Independent.
Langevin and Matson will face off in a live debate on Saturday at 7:30 pm. The debate will be shown live on NBC 10.
On the Republican side, voters in Exeter and North Kingstown will choose between Michael G. Riley, Michael J. Gardiner, Donald F. Robbio and Kara D. Russo in District 2.
Locally in Exeter, the District 34 primary will see incumbent Representative Francis T. Maher, Jr. facing off against fellow Republican Paul McFadden in the September 11 Primary race.
Maher, who holds the position of Senior Deputy Minority Leader, presently sits on the Senate Government Oversight, Health and Human Services and Housing committees. Maher is seeking his third term in office, first elected in 2008 and retaining his seat in 2010. Prior to his service in the Senate, Maher served on the Exeter/West Greenwich school committee from 2004-2008.
Also a proponent of education, Maher’s opponent, Paul McFadden is currently serving his second term on the EWG School Committee.
District 39’s Republican primary, meanwhile, features Michael J. Picillo and Clay P. Johnson.