• Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

Rhode Island and Utah hold special election primaries for House seats

Rhode Island and Utah hold special election primaries for House seats


Rhode Island and Utah voters are choosing party nominees for US House seats on Tuesday with the two states each holding a special primary election.

In Rhode Island, a crowded Democratic field will be narrowed down to one in the race to succeed Democrat David Cicilline in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Cicilline resigned in May to lead the Rhode Island Foundation.

In Utah, Republicans will decide their nominee in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, which GOP Rep. Chris Stewart is expected to vacate 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 will be 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

Rhode Island’s 1st District covers the eastern part of the state, including East and North Providence, Pawtucket and Portsmouth. Eleven Democrats are vying for the chance to succeed Cicilline.

The district is a Democratic stronghold – 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. A Republican hasn’t held the seat since 1995.

Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg has raised the most funds of the Democrats currently in the race, bringing in $630,000 through August 16. Former White House official Gabe Amo and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos trailed with $604,000 and $579,000, respectively.

Regunberg is running on a progressive platform, focused on issues such as fighting climate change and housing insecurity. He has the backing of multiple prominent progressives, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, and the endorsement of the campaign arm of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He has faced criticism over support he’s received from a super PAC primarily funded by his father-in-law. After an unsuccessful bid for Rhode Island lieutenant governor in 2018, he earned a law degree from Harvard and worked as a judicial law clerk.

Amo, the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants, has worked in both the Obama and Biden administrations. He has received endorsements from high-profile Democrats such as 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 has the backing of the campaign arm of the Congressional Black Caucus and Democrats Serve, which supports candidates with public service backgrounds.

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

Matos, who emigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic at the age of 20, could make history as the first Afro-Latina in Congress. She has the backing of the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Matos’ campaign endured 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 remains on the ballot, the state Board of Elections ordered local boards to post a notice that he’d withdrawn, Chris Hunter, a spokesman for the state board told CNN. Carlson has endorsed state Sen. Sandra Cano, a Colombian immigrant who has made education a top priority in her campaign and has labor support.

Marine veteran Gerry Leonard Jr., who had the endorsement of the state GOP, will win the party nomination, CNN projected Tuesday evening.

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 has been updated with a CNN projection.

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