Robert A. Nardolillo is a former Republican member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, representing District 28 from 2015 to 2019. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2018 before retiring from elected office. Nardolillo’s relatively short political tenure provides insights into Rhode Island’s political environment and the challenges facing Republican politicians in a deeply Democratic state.
Early Life and Education
Robert Nardolillo was born on March 26, 1980 in Providence, Rhode Island. He comes from an Italian-American family with roots in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence. Nardolillo attended Providence Country Day School, a private prep school, for high school. He went on to graduate from Johnson & Wales University in 2002 with a degree in Food Service Management.
After college, Nardolillo worked in food service and hospitality management. He helped manage his family’s restaurant, Nardolillo’s Restaurant in Cranston. He also worked for aid programs serving Rhode Island’s homeless population. This experience helped inform his socially conservative political views.
Entry into Politics
Nardolillo first ran for elected office in 2014, challenging incumbent Democrat Scott Guthrie for the District 28 seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. District 28 includes parts of Coventry and West Greenwich. Nardolillo defeated Guthrie by a margin of 64% to 35%, picking up the seat for Republicans.
As a state representative, Nardolillo served on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee in 2017. In 2015, he served on the Labor Committee. He sponsored legislation on issues like penalties for leaving the scene of an accident, veterans affairs, and eliminating beach fees.
In 2016, Nardolillo won re-election to the District 28 seat, defeating Democrat Ryan Hall by a margin of 64% to 36%.
In 2018, Nardolillo decided to run for U.S. Senate against longtime Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse. Nardolillo secured the Republican nomination but struggled to gain momentum in the race. He ended his Senate campaign in June 2018 before the general election took place.
Nardolillo did not seek re-election to the House in 2018, bringing his legislative career to an end after just 4 years in office.
As a Republican legislator, Nardolillo focused on typical conservative issues like lowering taxes, cutting government spending, and supporting small businesses. His campaign also highlighted public safety, government accountability, and education. He took a tough stance on illegal immigration.
One of Nardolillo’s signature issues was eliminating beach fees at state parks. He sponsored legislation to make state beaches free and accessible to all Rhode Island residents.
In 2018, Nardolillo faced some controversy when past social media posts containing inflammatory language surfaced during his Senate run. This included derogatory comments about immigrants and ethnic minorities. Nardolillo apologized for the posts and deleted some accounts.
After leaving the legislature, Nardolillo kept a relatively low public profile. He served as state director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Rhode Island in 2020.
Nardolillo also manages rental properties and works in real estate investment and development. He started a property management company focused on the Rhode Island market.
Analysis of Nardolillo’s Career
Nardolillo’s relatively short stint in statewide politics reflects some of the dynamics facing Republicans in a longtime Democratic stronghold like Rhode Island. His conservative populist messaging resonated in his district but struggled to gain traction beyond that.
As a young politician, Nardolillo showed promise but also demonstrated some of the shortcomings common among inexperienced lawmakers. While sincerely passionate about issues like tax reform, his policy knowledge appeared limited at times.
His 2018 Senate run was widely seen as a long shot bid and seemed to lack the rigorous preparation needed to unseat an entrenched incumbent like Senator Whitehouse.
Impact and Significance
While Nardolillo’s legislative impact was relatively modest, his 2014 victory did bring a Republican back to District 28 after several cycles of Democratic control. This underscored Republican efforts to gain ground in certain Rhode Island suburbs.
Nardolillo’s political career also demonstrates the difficulty GOP candidates still face in winning statewide races in Rhode Island. The state’s urban centers with their high immigrant populations remain a challenge for Republicans’ traditionally socially conservative platforms.
The controversies over Nardolillo’s past comments point to the scrutiny lawmakers now face over previous social media activities, something that has derailed other campaigns.
In the end, Robert Nardolillo’s brief time in office provided some incremental gains for Rhode Island Republicans but fell short of signaling any major partisan realignment in the state. His mix of ideological conservatism and populist economic messaging succeeded in his district but lacked the crossover appeal needed to thrive statewide.
Nardolillo’s career shows that while the Republican Party remains a force in certain Rhode Island suburbs, Democrats’ dominance in Providence and other urban centers gives them the advantage for now. Young GOP politicians like Nardolillo will need to find ways to soften the party’s public image and expand its appeal to make more meaningful inroads in this deep blue state.
Q: Where is Robert Nardolillo from?
A: Nardolillo was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He comes from an Italian-American family rooted in the Federal Hill neighborhood.
Q: How long was Nardolillo in the Rhode Island legislature?
A: Nardolillo served just one term from 2015-2019. He represented District 28 in the Rhode Island House.
Q: What election did Nardolillo run in and lose?
A: In 2018 Nardolillo ran for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse but dropped out before the general election.
Q: What were some of Nardolillo’s main policy positions?
A: As a Republican, he focused on lowering taxes, eliminating beach fees, and increasing government accountability and transparency.
Q: Why did Nardolillo leave office after just one term?
A: After his failed Senate bid in 2018, Nardolillo did not seek re-election to the House in 2018, retiring after just 4 years in office.