Top Rhode Island Democrats throw support behind Klobuchar

House Republican leader says he backs Tulsi Gabbard or Donald Trump

Rhode Island legislative leaders on stage at Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheon
Rhode Island legislative leaders on stage at Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheonEdward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE -- The final question was simple enough: Who are you supporting for president in 2020?

The replies left the crowd buzzing at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon on Wednesday -- and reflected the unsettled nature of the Democratic presidential primary.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat who holds enormous sway over the state Democratic Party organization, said he had been backing former Vice President Joseph Biden, but now is “very supportive” of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

“I was a Biden supporter, but I think that he is not doing as well as I would have hoped,” Mattiello said. “So in light of that, Amy Klobuchar is coming up. I like her a lot. I am very supportive of her. A very strong woman. Very bright woman. And I think she could stand up and really represent the country well.”


Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat who had been undecided, said he, too, is now backing Klobuchar.

Their comments come one day after Klobuchar surged to a third-place finish in the New Hampshire presidential primary, powered by a strong debate performance.

In mid-January, when the Globe asked the two top legislative leaders who they supported for president, Mattiello had said Biden, and Ruggerio had said, “I’m undecided right now — not Trump.”

At Wednesday’s luncheon, Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat, said he is still supporting Biden.

Another Warwick Democrat, House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, said he is “all in” for former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

So, in the end, the top General Assembly Democrats appeared to be as divided as the greater Democratic electorate.

And the divisions weren’t limited to the Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, a Westerly Republican, gave the expected answer, saying he is backing President Trump in 2020.


But House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, a Block Island Republican, said he would support either US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, or President Trump.

“Tulsi Gabbard because of her perspective on war and peace,” he said when asked who he’s backing in 2020. “And if not her, Donald Trump because he is not a globalist.”

“He’s not a what?” asked Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White.

“A globalist,” Filippi said. “He believes in strong nation states.”

After the luncheon, Mattiello said the Klobuchar “is impressing a lot of people, and I’m one of them.”

Filippi said he thinks both Gabbard and Trump are “great.”

“When you look at the constitutional role of the president, the primary role is war and peace -- international relations,” Filippi said. “When you look at (Gabbard’s) foreign policies, she mimics those of our founders, and that was peace and trade with all, entangling alliances with none.”

Filippi said that, of the Democrats, only Gabbard and Klobuchar stand a chance of beating Trump.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.