Just look at the headlines, he says. Providence and Central Falls are in dire fiscal shape. And the pension system's inadequacies are a source of considerable agita.

"I don't know where they shop," he says, of Democratic operatives, "but wherever I go, people are furious."

Still, Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association-Rhode Island teachers union and longtime political player, says he just doesn't see some epochal shift in Rhode Island politics.

"Tough times bring folks together," he says, recalling the conservative paroxysm that followed the state's banking crisis in the early 1990s, "but it's temporary."

Rhode Island, he suggests, is still Rhode Island. And it's not just the state's values or ideology at issue here. As McKay himself acknowledges, breaking the bond between voter and Democratic incumbent in a state this small is a real challenge.

"In Rhode Island it's tough," he says. "We have these tiny districts and so people think, 'Well, I know the guy.' My position is if you know a person who is caucusing with [Senate President] Teresa Paiva Weed or [Speaker of the House] Gordon Fox, then they are not for you, no matter how close they are to you, no matter how many years you spent in grammar school together."

That's a tough sell — especially with Fox and Paiva Weed playing against the Democratic caricature, this year, and forgoing the large sales tax expansion that Governor Lincoln Chafee proposed.

But if a full-scale revolution seems unlikely next year, particularly with President Obama atop the ticket and Democrats expected to go to the polls in large numbers, tough times could mean real moments of opportunity — here and there — for a well-organized GOP.

Freshman Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, former mayor of Providence, is reeling in the face of that city's fiscal meltdown and will be vulnerable when he seeks re-election next fall. And Governor Chafee, an independent, won a rather narrow victory in a four-way race last year and could hardly be considered a shoe-in come 2014.

If those races are close, as expected, route-optimized walking lists and a few hundred newly identified voters in the East Bay could make a difference.

Ken McKay's voter file may not bag the General Assembly and turn Rhode Island politics upside down. But a Congressional seat and the governor's office would be a nice little haul.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at dscharfenberg[a]phx.com.

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