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  Lorber campaign helped transform politics here
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ContributorRBH 
Last EditedRBH  Sep 20, 2007 04:57pm
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News DateTuesday, September 11, 2007 10:55:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionWhen Richard Lorber died recently at 83, his paid obituary said he was an ardent supporter of the national Democratic Party.

A fuller account would have also noted that the retired Cadillac-Pontiac dealer helped usher in a new Rhode Island electoral era. In 1976, spending lavishly from his own resources and using fancy consultants, he built a campaign organization from scratch, ran a blizzard of TV ads, hammered away on an anti-politician theme, and managed to capture the nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by the legendary John O. Pastore.

Lorber won an eight-way primary, edging his closest rival, Gov. Philip Noel, by 100 votes after a bitter long count that took more than a week. But Democratic disarray, Lorber’s alternately abrasive/charming personality, and the popularity of former Republican Gov. John Chafee all took a toll, and Chafee won the seat in November.

Even so, just winning the primary for a top office was a coup for a novice. Lorber in essence borrowed a leaf from wealthy outsider Claiborne Pell, a Democrat who scored a pioneering upset en route to capturing the other Senate seat in 1960. Lorber was a precursor to such successful, non-traditional millionaire candidates as Democrat Bruce Sundlun, elected governor in 1990, and Republican Donald Carcieri, elected governor in 2002.

All these men won primaries in those years unendorsed by their state party organizations. Their victories shook the traditional political system. Indeed, the 1976 Democratic primary was a watershed. In addition to Lorber, incumbent Rep. Edward Beard, who had feuded with Noel and was running unendorsed, also won — big — and unendorsed Anthony Solomon won for general treasurer.
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