Former White House aide will win Democratic primary for Rhode Island special House election, CNN projects


Former White House aide Gabe Amo will win the Democratic special election primary for Rhode Island’s 1st District, CNN projects.

He’ll be heavily favored to keep this seat in Democratic hands and succeed former Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who resigned in May to lead the Rhode Island Foundation. If elected, Amo, the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants, would be the first Black person to represent Rhode Island in Congress.

Utah voters are also deciding the fall matchup for a US House seat on Tuesday. There’s a special election in the 2nd District to succeed GOP Rep. Chris Stewart, who is expected to vacate his seat on September 15. Stewart announced in June that he would be departing Congress, citing his wife’s health concerns.

Both seats are not expected to change party hands in November, given the partisan leans of each district, so the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries are critical to determining who their next members of Congress will be.

Rhode Island’s general election is set for November 7, while the general election in Utah will take place on November 21.

Rhode Island

Amo will face Marine veteran Gerry Leonard Jr., who had the state GOP’s endorsement and will win the GOP primary, CNN projects, in the November 7 general election.

The district – which covers the eastern part of the state, including East and North Providence, Pawtucket and Portsmouth – is a deep-blue seat Republicans haven’t held since 1995. Cicilline won a seventh term by 28 points last fall, and President Joe Biden would have carried the district by a similar margin in 2020 under its present lines.

Amo, who has worked in both the Obama and Biden administrations, received endorsements from prominent Democrats during the primary campaign, including former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represented the 1st District for eight terms before Cicilline, and former White House chief of staff Ron Klain. He also had the backing of the campaign arm of the Congressional Black Caucus and Democrats Serve, which supports candidates with public service backgrounds.

A former deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Amo made preventing gun violence a top priority during the campaign, noting that during his White House tenure, he “was often the first call to a mayor following a mass shooting.”

Other high-profile candidates in the crowded Democratic primary included former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and state Sen. Sandra Cano.

Regunberg ran on a progressive platform, focused on issues such as fighting climate change and housing insecurity.

He had the backing of multiple prominent progressives, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the endorsement of the campaign arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Regunberg, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018, was the fundraising leader among the Democrats seeking the nomination Tuesday. But he faced criticism over support he’s received from a super PAC primarily funded by his father-in-law.

Matos, who emigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic at the age of 20, had the support of the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

She faced controversy this summer following allegations her campaign had submitted falsified nominating signatures. Hundreds of signatures were thrown out, but her campaign submitted enough valid signatures to make the ballot. The incident is being investigated by the state attorney general. Matos has blamed an outside vendor for submitting the alleged false signatures.

In another controversy leading up to the primary, businessman Don Carlson, who had loaned his campaign $600,000, ended his bid a little over a week ago following allegations of an inappropriate interaction he had with a college student in 2019. While his name remained on the ballot, the state Board of Elections had ordered local boards to post a notice that he’d withdrawn, Chris Hunter, a spokesman for the state board told CNN. Carlson endorsed Cano, a Colombian immigrant who made education a top priority in her campaign and had labor support.

Utah’s 2nd District covers the western portion of the state, stretching from the Salt Lake City area to St. George. Republicans are heavily favored to hold the seat – Stewart won a sixth term last fall by 26 points, while former President Donald Trump would have carried it under its current lines by 17 points in 2020.

Three Republicans are looking to succeed Stewart: Former Utah GOP Chairman Bruce Hough, former Stewart aide Celeste Maloy and former state Rep. Becky Edwards.

Maloy, who has Stewart’s backing, earned her spot on the ballot by winning a nominating convention in July, while Hough and Edwards qualified by collecting sufficient signatures.

Edwards and Hough, boosted by significant self-funding, both outraised Maloy through August 16.

Edwards raised $679,000 – $300,000 of which she loaned to her campaign – while Hough raised nearly $539,000, including $334,000 of his own money. Maloy had brought in $307,000 through August 16.

Maloy, who worked as a counsel in Stewart’s Washington office, has faced questions over her eligibility for the special election primary ballot over voter registration issues. She was marked inactive in the state’s voter database because she did not cast a ballot in 2020 and 2022, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, after she relocated to Virginia to work for Stewart. But the state GOP submitted her name for the ballot, noting that no objections to her candidacy were filed before the convention.

On the campaign trail, Maloy said she’s been focusing on government overreach. She has proposed defunding federal agencies to eliminate “anything they’re doing that Congress hasn’t authorized.”

Voters are “worried that these executive branch agencies have too much power, they’re not checked and they’re too involved in our lives,” Maloy told CNN affiliate KUTV in an interview. “And I happen to agree.”

Maloy’s campaign has received financial support from VIEW PAC, which is dedicated to recruiting and electing Republican women to Congress.

Hough – the father of professional dancers Julianne and Derek Hough, who rose to fame on “Dancing with the Stars” – is focusing on debt reduction and deficit control, citing his family as one of the reasons why he’s running.

“With 22 grandkids, 10 kids and a $32 trillion (US) debt, I’m very anxious about their future and about the future of all Americans and all Utahns,” Hough told ABC4 in a video posted in June. “It’s time that we actually do something about it.”

Hough, who until recently had been Utah’s Republican national committeeman, has positioned himself as the candidate most supportive of Trump.

Edwards, meanwhile, challenged GOP Sen. Mike Lee in a primary last year as a moderate opposed to Trump and took 30% of the vote. On the trail, she has touted her experience as a state lawmaker, focusing on priorities such as health care, education and fiscal responsibility.

Edwards, who backed Biden in 2020, expressed “regret” for that support at a debate in June, saying she had been “extremely disappointed” with his administration, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary will face Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in November. Riebe won her party’s nomination at a June convention.

This story and headline have been updated with CNN projections.

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