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Why Ken Block's Candidacy Is Bad News For the R.I. GOP Why Ken Block's Candidacy Is Bad News For the R.I. GOP

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Why Ken Block's Candidacy Is Bad News For the R.I. GOP

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In this July 6, 2010 photo, Ken Block, a Moderate Party gubernatorial candidate, campaigns at the Anthony House retirement home in Portsmouth. Block announced Tuesday he's going to try again in 2014.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ken Block, the founder of Rhode Island's Moderate Party, announced Tuesday that he'll make a second run for governor next year, further complicating Republicans' path to victory in the Ocean State.

Some Republicans say Block's 2010 bid cost them a chance to win a three-way race, like they did in Maine. Block ended up winning 6 percent of the vote, finishing last in a four-way field.  GOP nominee John Robitaille finished just 2 points behind Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent. Robitaille could have finished on top, the theory goes, if he had won the votes that went to the fiscally conservative Block.

Block has increased his visibility in the ensuing years via his efforts to expose waste and fraud in state government. Block's campaign to eliminate Rhode Island's "master lever," which allows for straight-ticket voting, has generated significant media coverage throughout the state. In an interview last month, Michael Napolitano, a GOP strategist who worked on Robitaille's campaign, warned that Block would "probably take a larger percentage" if he decided to run again. If Block's final tally is closer to 10 percent in 2014, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a Republican winning in the heavily Democratic state, even if Chafee seeks reelection as an independent, as is widely expected.

Even before Block's announcement, the 2014 race looked more difficult on paper for Republicans than the 2010 contest. Robitaille benefited from the implosion of Democratic nominee Frank Caprio, who controversially said that President Obama could "shove it" after the president decided not to endorse him. Democrats are expected to have a much stronger nominee next year, as General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, two rising stars in the party, are both expected to seek the nomination.

Robitaille and former state police chief Brendan Doherty, who failed in his bid to unseat Rep. David Cicciline last year, already have announced they won't run, leaving Cranston Mayor Allan Fung as the most likely GOP nominee. Fung hasn't officially announced his candidacy, but he has said he's taking a "serious look" at the race.

With lagging polling numbers and a struggling state economy, Chafee is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in the country. While he hasn't ruled out running as a Democrat, local and national Democratic officials don't expect the former Republican to go through with another party switch. Block's entry could help Chafee, as some strategists say the incumbent's best chance of winning reelection is to recreate the crowded, competitive 2010 field.

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