This January will mark the first time since 2005 that Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt will not be up at State House as a local representative after he was defeating by Democrat Robert “Bob” Craven in last week’s general election. Ehrhardt, who won his last election in 2010 against Democrat Richard Welch by almost 1,300 votes fell to Craven by more than 600 this time around.
“I was very surprised with the results,” said Ehrhardt. ”I had no feeling at all that it would go this way.”
Both men had very different paths to election night this year that both made headlines over this summer. Ehrhardt faced an unexpected primary against Republican Sharon Gamba, who claimed that Ehrhardt was initially going to step down and she was picked to be his successor. Throughout the primary race, Gamba and Ehrhardt battled over the details of their previous correspondence: Gamba said she was being mentored by the state representative for three months, starting in April 2012. On her website, Gamba displays copies of emails between herself and Rep. Ehrhardt, reportedly showing correspondence between the two. Ehrhradt purports that the correspondence was not that extensive and denied mentoring the newcomer.
The contentious primary came to a close with Ehrhardt narrowly beating Gamba by just 16 votes. Looking back, Ehrhardt believes that the primary race was a big factor in his election loss. Craven also believes that many Gamba supporters who voted for her in the primary voted for him in the general election over Ehrhardt.
“The primary race turned very negative in terms of my opponent attacking me on a number of dimensions,” said Ehrhardt.
Craven also went into the matchup with a disadvantage. Craven, a lawyer and Charlestown Town Solicitor, was selected at the 11th hour to be the Democratic challenger. After nomination papers were submitted, Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Ed Pacheco had 24 hours to find a Democratic nominee to run for House District 32.
Despite the results, Ehrhardt is confident that Craven, a former North Kingstown Town Councilor, will do well up at the State House. Ehrhardt says he will be meeting with Craven this week to pass on materials and give the incoming freshman representative some tips and pointers.
According to Craven, he received a call from Pacheco as he was driving over the Newport Bridge, asking him if he had ever thought of running for General Assembly. Craven said no but told Pacheco he would consider it and get back to him in a few days.
“When I told him that, [Pacheco] said, ‘No, I’m going to need an answer in’ and then I heard him pause and assumed he was looking at his watch and then said ‘48 minutes,’” said Craven.
Many North Kingstowners may be familiar with Craven’s name. From 1994 to 1996, he served on the North Kingstown Town Council. In recent years, he’s relocated his law firm into town. Local parents may recognize his name as well as he has coached his sons in soccer and baseball throughout the years.
“I’ve lived in North Kingstown for 39 years and I’ve been active in all kinds of things since I was a senior in high school,” said Craven.
As for his victory, Craven believes that not being the incumbent gave him a peculiar advantage. While going door to door, Craven said a large portion of residents said they would vote for him based solely on the fact that he wasn’t currently in office.
“All incumbents had to go was the message I was getting from residents,” said Craven. “They were sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Next year, Craven will start his newest venture as a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly. As for his predecessor, he calls Ehrhardt a “class act.”
Both men said they will be meeting in the coming weeks to go over items before the legislative session before Ehrhardt goes into what he calls a “voter-induced sabbatical.” Though he’s disappointed that he won’t be in for a fifth term next year, his conversations with Craven have made him confident in freshman legislator.
“I think he’s going to be a good representative,” said Ehrhardt.