Rhode Island governor fends off progressive primary challenger

Stage set for hotly contested match-up in November

By ERIC BRADNER, CNN
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc

Governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo

(CNN) - Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo will beat back a foe supported by Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive groups in Wednesday's Democratic primary, CNN projects, setting the stage for what's expected to be a hotly contested November match-up.

Raimondo will face Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, CNN projects, in a rematch of their 2014 race, which Raimondo won by 4 percentage points while drawing just 41% of the vote in a three-way race.

The possibility of a close general election reflects an oddity of the 2018 political map: Most signs point to a dominant year for Democrats nationwide, but Republicans could be re-elected to the governors' offices in four typically deep-blue Northeastern states: Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire and Vermont. Competitive races in Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut mean all of New England's governors' offices are in play for the GOP.

In Rhode Island, the Democratic race featured the state's first female governor, in a year in which women have dominated the party's competitive primaries, running against a white male challenger backed by progressive groups Our Revolution -- the organization launched by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont after his 2016 presidential bid -- and Justice Democrats.

A 47-year-old former venture capitalist and former state treasurer, Raimondo's centrist politics -- her pension revisions infuriated some state workers and progressives -- made her a target in a state with a peculiar brand of old-school, socially conservative Democratic machine politics.

Raimondo spent her first four years in office pushing tax incentives, small-business loans, community college and job training in a state that was among the hardest hit and slowest to recover from the economic downturn.

Challenger Matt Brown campaigned on undoing Raimondo's pension changes, and cast her as a corporatist "Republican in disguise."

Brown, a former Rhode Island secretary of state, had been out of politics since a calamitous 2006 Senate run in which he faced accusations of laundering campaign donations. Raimondo highlighted those allegations in a scathing television ad in the race's final two weeks.

Former state lawmaker Spencer Dickinson also challenged Raimondo from the left.

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