PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Days after winning the Republican primary, Heidi Rogers
has dropped out of the race for lieutenant governor this afternoon.
That leaves two Independents in a race against the $99,214 a year incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Roberts. They are lawyer Robert J. Healey Jr., founder and standard bearer of the Cool Moose party, and local cable television personality Robert Venturini, real-estate agent; host of public access TV shows "An Hour with Bob" and "Bob's Big Adventures;" advertising success story for Leonard's Hair Transplant Associates.
The deadline for candidates to withdraw their names from the ballot -- or for a party chairman to name a replacement -- is 4 p.m. Rogers came in just under the wire.
Her Republican primary opponent Kara D. Russo issued a statement accusing Rogers and the Rhode Island GOP of having "lied to the public. The will of the people -- of the voters -- was subverted. The people who voted for Heidi Rogers were under the impression that Heidi Rogers wanted to become the next Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island. As she clearly did not, her entire "candidacy" was deceptive, to say the least.''
But state Republican Party chairman Giovanni Cicione said: "I respect Heidi's decision to withdraw her candidacy and I applaud her willingness to stand by her convictions.
"I understand the reasoning that went into this decision and I join my fellow members of the RI Republican Party and its leadership who are in support of Heidi's decision," he said.
"Bob Healey's commitment to end the abuse of taxpayer dollars for personal political gain through this office -- to the tune of $1 million per year -- is entirely consistent with the principles of the RI Republican Party and we understand that all Rhode Islanders will benefit regardless of which individual saves that money for the taxpayers," he said.
In a letter to Republican party leaders, Rogers said she was dropping out to give Healey a better chance of winning because "Bob Healey and I believe in the same vision for the office of Lieutenant Governor'' and "with both of us running on the same platform for the same office, the outcome would be to hand over the election to the incumbent Democrat.
"Splitting the 'abolish the office' vote by having two candidates simply does not make sense, and it is my firm belief that it would deny the voters a clear choice,'' she said.
Healey, who has making his third run for lieutenant governor on a platform of eliminating the job, said Rogers would support his candidacy.
"She's withdrawing because philosophically, my position is very much in line with both hers and the party, and that a three-way race would, in essence, split the vote, allowing the Democrat to win," he told The Associated Press.
"When you look at the statistics the Republicans have won this office one two-year term in the last 70 years. The Republicans know when to cut and run. I think it is very noble of them to actually to find a position that is one open tent,'' he said after joining Rogers at the elections division of the Secretary of State's office.
After the primary, Rogers said she met with both Healey and the leadership of the Republican Party about "which candidate was more likely to win... I had to concede that Mr. Healey has a long history of advocating for this position, that he has a following of supporters who identify him with this cause.
"Mr. Healey had to concede that he had limited success in the past trying to get the people to embrace the idea of "No Lieutenant Governor", and that running without a party structure made the race more difficult,'' she wrote.
Based on her belief that Healey "is more widely identified with this idea and, I have come to believe, has a better opportunity [to] see it through this November,'' Rogers said would file papers to withdraw her candidacy before the afternoon was out "in the furtherance of the basic philosophy of the Republican Party.''
On Tuesday, Rogers, a paralegal, emergency medical technician and former Foster town council chairwoman, beat Russo by 67.3 percent to 32.7 percent.
A mother of four, Rogers and her husband, Gordon, own four small businesses, including the old Stone Inn on Route 6 in Foster. They also bale hay and chop wood. Her husband is the Foster Republican Town Committee chairman seeking a seat on the council.
Rogers emerged as a candidate for lieutenant governor at a point when state Republicans expected Robert G. Tingle, a three-time unsuccessful congressional candidate and longtime "pit boss" at Foxwoods Resort & Casino, to seek the job. Tingle went so far as to file candidacy papers to run for lieutenant governor with the state Board of Elections.
"When the Rhode Island Republican Party couldn't find anyone to run against Jim Langevin and Jack Reed, I did so," wrote Tingle in an e-mail message to Republican critics considering supporting Healey. "Once again, the Rhode Island Republican Party doesn't have a candidate to run... Once again, I am happy to step up to the plate and run."
But the state's Republican establishment was reluctant to support Tingle, with Cicione, the state GOP chairman, publicly acknowledging that he preferred Healey over Tingle.
"I believe that the feeling among the grass-roots GOP members is that supporting Bob Healey is the way to go for 2010," Cicione said. Tingle did not turn in enough signatures to get on the ballot, and Rogers emerged as the endorsed GOP candidate with Russo as her challenger.
Russo, former advertising and sales manager at the then-Providence Civic Center -- now the Dunkin' Donuts Center -- was running for Congress at the same time. She campaigned for both jobs with her fiancé and Providence mayoral candidate, Christopher Young, who also lost in Tuesday's voting.
As she dropped off her withdrawal form, Rogers told a gathering of reporters "there is no disconnect between myself and the party.''
Asked if she believed her withdrawal after the primary was fair to her opponent, Rogers said: "She's very passionate about her issues. She's a very nice person. IBut] I don't think that the issues that Kara was bringing forward were what's on the voter's minds right now...and the people that voted for me, I thank them and I really hope that they'll stand behind Bob Healey as well.''
Asked if she ever intended to stay in the race, Rogers said: "I did intend to see it through, but we knew going in that we would have to have a discussion later if there was going to be a three-way race, with two platforms that were very similiar.''
Incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Roberts is running for her second term.
Healey is running for lieutenant governor for the third time with a promise not to take any salary or hire staff, while pushing the legislature to put a proposed amendment to the state Constitution on the ballot that defines the job or eliminates it.
His preference: eliminate the office and give its one clear responsibility to another statewide officer and that is, taking the governor's place should he or she die.
"Anybody can do that job,'' he said, suggesting "the only important thing...[is] "that voters know who they are electing has the potential of becoming governor.''
"Saving $1 million is really what it is all about,'' said Healey, saying he could suspend his law practice and go without a salary because he has made enough money in law, land sales in Uruguay and the liquor business to get by without a state salary.
"We have to wait and see what the people think. I mean I am not the prettiest candidate,'' said the long-haired and bearded Healey, "and I know people have some sort of inbred animosity. It's odd to me. I mean the long hair and the beard certainly is a recognizable persona, on the other hand I know it works against me in many ways.''
"It's kind of odd,'' he said "I know people go to church every Sunday and worship someone with long hair, and yet can't see that their elected officials could potentially have the same appearance.''
But he has no plans to cut his hair or his beard, he said, because "I think it runs to my integrity.''
The Providence Journal has been following this story today as it develops. Our initial report was posted at 1 p.m.