Voices of the Bay

Tips from a Political Pro

According to Bristol’s Cara Cromwell, our state’s size makes it a great place to run for office


Bristol native Cara Cromwell spearheaded the National Governors Association Summer Meeting held this past July in Rhode Island with U.S. vice president Mike Pence and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau in attendance. The successful three-day event, with 1,800 registered participants, was the largest turnout for any NGA meeting.

Cara began her career with Governor Bruce Sundlun as a campaign worker and served in his press office before heading to Washington, D.C., to work for such notable firms as Edelman, Shandwick Public Affairs, and Lunde & Burger/Decision Management.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she majored in history and politics, Cara returned to Rhode Island fifteen years ago with husband Nick and daughters Maggie and Caroline. Her firm Cromwell Public Affairs works with clients ranging from AT&T and MasterCard to Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker and referendum issues, including passage of Question 2 concerning Ethics Reform in 2016. Since 2015 she has served on the State of Rhode Island Personnel Appeal Board for the Raimondo administration; she is currently the chairperson. Cara can be reached at Cara@CromwellPublicAffairs.com

[There are] three points to consider before deciding to run for office. Understand the extensive time commitment it takes when elected: meetings and sessions at the Assembly, talking to constituents, researching issues. Have a good team of people who are committed to getting you elected now and after, because the next election comes up so quickly. Understand your goals: What issues do you want to focus on and what is your exit plan? Maybe you want to seek higher office. Or you look up eight years later, you have done what you wanted to do and now want to leave office.

If you run for office in Rhode Island, you can engage with a huge amount of your constituency. Senator Reed can drive around the entire state and make contact with people. You have no hope of doing that in California or bigger places. Knowing people, getting out there, talking and hearing what people are saying and then figuring out how to translate it all back into something meaningful. If you’re a State Rep and hear the same five things in one day, that’s a significant feedback loop you can’t get if you are representing a large, geographically diverse area.

An elected official needs to have the ability to step back and understand when someone disagrees about policies without taking it personally or being offensive in a response. You have to rise above it when there is name calling.

I like being able to say that I had a part in moving a good piece of legislation or an issue along that helps people, like bringing a child vaccine to market. That’s a good feeling.