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Ex-Biden aide wins Democratic nod in Rhode Island primary

Race likely picks next House member in district Biden won easily

Gabe Amo, a Democrat running in the special primary in Rhode Island's 1st District, campaigns in Barrington, R.I., on July 31.
Gabe Amo, a Democrat running in the special primary in Rhode Island's 1st District, campaigns in Barrington, R.I., on July 31. (Daniela Altimari/CQ Roll Call)

Former White House aide Gabe Amo won a crowded Democratic primary for an open House seat in Rhode Island Tuesday. He is poised to make history as the first Black member of Congress from Rhode Island.

Amo had 32 percent of the vote to J. Aaron Regunberg’s 25 percent and Sandra Cano’s 14 percent with 99 percent of the estimated vote counted. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, the only statewide officeholder on the ballot, was widely viewed as the front-runner but was running fourth, with eight other candidates dividing the rest. The Associated Press called the race at 8:36 p.m.

Amo will face Republican nominee Gerry Leonard on Nov. 7 to fill the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who resigned earlier this year to lead a Providence-based nonprofit. The GOP hasn’t held the seat in nearly three decades, and in 2020 President Joe Biden won nearly 64 percent of the vote in the 1st District, which includes most of Providence and runs along the state’s eastern coast.

Amo, the son of immigrants from Ghana and Liberia, said in a campaign video he was “a poor kid from Pawtucket” who set off on a career in politics that ultimately landed him a job as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs under Biden. He had the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus and was recently endorsed by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who recorded a TV commercial for him.

Tuesday’s unofficial results capped an unpredictable campaign that featured an initial field of 15 candidates and an influx of outside spending. The race was also marked by a series of controversies, including allegations of illegal super PAC coordination by Regunberg and an investigation into forged signatures on petitions that got Matos on the ballot. Both candidates denied wrongdoing.

Another Democrat, renewable energy investor Don Carlson, suspended his campaign late last month after a report by WPRI-TV raised questions about an interaction he had with a student when he taught at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Carlson, who had topped the field’s fundraising list primarily because of a $600,000 loan he made to his campaign, threw his support to Cano.

While campaigning in July, Amo went door to door trying to talk with voters, and said in an interview that his time in the White House working as a liaison with local officials across the nation bolstered his belief in bipartisanship. 

“I’ve probably spoken to more Republican elected officials than anybody else in this race,” said Amo, who was tasked with helping to build local support for the bipartisan infrastructure package. “As President Biden often says, there’s no such thing as a Democratic road or a Republican bridge.”

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