DemDaily: Tuesday’s Election Results! Rhode Island and Utah

September 6, 2023

Gabe Amo, a veteran of both the Biden and Obama administrations, won Rhode Island's First Congressional District Special Election Primary yesterday, putting him on track to become the first person of color to represent The Ocean State in Congress.

If victorious in November, he would succeed former Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, who represented the deeply blue district from 2011 to June 1, 2023 when he stepped down to become President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Amo secured 32.5% of the vote, followed by former State Representative Aaron Regunberg with 24.9% and State Senator Sandra Cano with 13.8%. Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos captured 8%, State Representative Stephen Casey 5.9%, and the remaining six candidates came in below 4%.

Amo, 36, who has said he is running to tell "his story," told cheering supporters last night, “This primary election shows that Rhode Islanders believe in a state where one of their sons, the son of two West African immigrants...could receive the love and investment of a community and go from serving the president of the United States…to being the Democratic nominee for Congress for the 1st Congressional District.”

The son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants, Amo grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and in 2010 graduated magna cum laude from Wheaton College where he was President of the Student Government Association. He received a Truman Scholarship and was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford.

He worked in the White House Office in the Obama administration, as National Political Coordinator for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, and on the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Amo subsequently served in the administration of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, and as a senior advisor on her 2018 re-election campaign.

Amo then worked as National States Strategy and Program Advisor for the 2020 Biden-Harris campaign, and as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the administration.

In a mid-August poll by Amo's own campaign, progressive favorite Regunberg led the field in polling with 28% to Amo's 19%, followed by Matos and Cano with 11% each.

All four top contenders had significant national and state endorsements. Regunberg rolled out the support of popular New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last Thursday, while Amo countered with a TV ad endorsement from former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who represented the First District from 1994 to 2010. Kennedy was also openly critical of Regunberg as “too extreme” for the district, attacking the candidate on his promise to cut defense spending as endangering Rhode island jobs.

While special elections often serve as a barometer of the mood of the electorate toward a certain political party -- or ideological faction within a party -- a number of the candidates were marred by controversy, diluting the distinctions in an already condensed contest. Matos' campaign was embroiled in a scandal over fraudulent signatures on her nomination papers and Regunberg came under fire in the final weeks for accepting money from a super PAC financed largely by his father, an executive at a global investment firm, after pledging to not take money from corporate PACs.

In the general election, Amo will face political newcomer and retired US Marine Corps Colonel Gerry Leonard Jr., who defeated former Middletown Town Councilor Terri Flynn 75.8% to 24.2% to win the Republican primary.

The seat, which Cicilline won in 2022 with 64% and Biden won in 2020 with 63.8%, is heavily favored to stay in Democratic hands.

The partisan breakdown of the 118th Congress of the US House of Representatives stands at 222 Republicans to 213 Democrats, including the vacancy in Rhode Island's First District. There are an additional six non-voting members from DC and the Territories.

The results of yesterday's Utah Second Congressional District Special Election Primary to replace outgoing seven-term incumbent Republican Chris Stewart, are too close to call. Stewart is resigning effective September 15 due to his wife's illness.

With 82% of the vote reporting, Stewart Chief Legal Counsel Celeste Maloy is leading former State Representative Becky Edwards 38.3% to 35.1%, followed by former Utah Republican Party Chair and Republican national committeeman Bruce Hough, who has received 26.6% of the vote.

Maloy, an anti-abortion Trump supporter, defeated eleven candidates to win the GOP nomination at the June 24 Republican convention. Hough, also a conservative, and Edwards, a moderate, qualified for the primary ballot by collecting signatures. Edwards previously challenged incumbent US Senator Mike Lee in the 2022 GOP primary, running as an anti-Trump alternative and winning 30% of the vote.

The sprawling 2nd CD, which serves northern Salt Lake City and the largely rural western and southern portions of the state, delivered a 57.6% win for Trump in 2020.

Election results, as of this writing, showed Maloy leading in rural areas, while Edwards was ahead in urban counties. Almost all ballots in Utah are cast by mail, and may arrive as late as September 19 as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

The winner will face State Senate Minority Whip and former Utah State Board of Education member Kathleen Riebe in November 21 general election. Riebe was unchallenged in the Democratic primary.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: New York Times, WPRI, AP, White House, American Prospect, FiveThirtyEight

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