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An endorsement exposes rift in Rhode Island Republican Party

October 4, 2018

Independent candidate for Rhode Island governor, Joe Trillo, left, is endorsed Thursday Oct. 4, 2018 in Warwick, Rhode Island, by Republican Patricia Morgan, right. Morgan endorsed Trillo, a former Republican state lawmaker, over Republican gubernatorial hopeful Allan Fung. Morgan lost to Fung in the primary. (AP Photo/ Jennifer McDermott)

WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — A high-profile endorsement in the race for Rhode Island governor exposed a deepening rift Thursday in the state Republican Party.

Former Republican candidate Patricia Morgan endorsed independent Joe Trillo in the race over Republican nominee Allan Fung. Fung beat Morgan, the House minority leader, in last month’s primary.

In response, the tiny Republican caucus of the Rhode Island House of Representatives took the symbolic step of stripping Morgan of her leadership position in the House.

House Minority Whip Blake Filippi said Morgan’s endorsement of Trillo hurts their party’s candidates. Filippi says the post will remain vacant until after the general election.

“We’re trying to build our caucus and get more Republicans elected, and this was a distraction from that,” Filippi said.

Morgan said they’re trying to censor her opinion, but since she wasn’t running for re-election anyway, “it’s really not a big deal.”

State Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell harshly criticized the endorsement, saying that Trillo and Morgan joined forces out of spite and they’re “trying to make themselves politically relevant” by helping Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo get re-elected.

Morgan said she knows Trillo’s character and what he stands for, and she believes he’s the only person who can beat Raimondo on Nov. 6.

Morgan said in Warwick that she thinks Trillo, a former Republican state representative, will unite the Republican vote, not split it. Trillo said that if he wasn’t in the race, Fung still wouldn’t win because he’s a “flawed candidate.” Trillo thinks some conservative Democrats will support him because he’s an independent.

After the announcement, Fung tweeted that the reforms and changes he’ll bring angers two Iongtime insiders.

Raimondo campaign spokesman Michael Raia said he’s not surprised by Morgan’s support of Trillo because of Fung’s tax policies as mayor of Cranston.

Morgan said Fung called her seeking an endorsement after the primary and “it didn’t go well,” so Fung didn’t pose the question.

Trillo was President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for Rhode Island and left the party to run for governor as an independent. He said he still supports Trump’s policies but not the way the president sometimes handles himself publicly.

When asked by reporters whether Trump would visit Rhode Island to campaign for him, Trillo said to “stay tuned.”

Trillo also announced that three other Republicans would work for his administration if he’s elected: a former attorney general, Arlene Violet, and two former Republican gubernatorial contenders, Ken Block and John Robitaille. Block lost to Fung in the 2014 primary. Robitaille lost in 2010 to Lincoln Chafee.

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Staff writer Michelle R. Smith in Providence contributed to this report.

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