EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Four Democrats seeking to replace outgoing Congressman Jim Langevin faced off during their first televised debate Tuesday, giving voters insight into how they’d handle issues such as student debt, abortion rights and policing if sent to Capitol Hill.

Joy Fox, Seth Magaziner, Sarah Morgenthau and David Segal, the leading Democrats in the race for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, took turns at the 12 News debate making the case for why voters should support them at the primary election on Sept. 13.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Allan Fung and independent Bill Gilbert in November. (Two other Democrats, Omar Bah and Spencer Dickinson, are also on the September ballot but did not qualify to participate in the debate.)

Here are four key takeaways from the debate.

Candidates split on student debt forgiveness

The candidates were split when asked whether they supported President Biden’s decision this month to eliminate at least $10,000 of student debt for millions of American college graduates.

Magaziner, who currently serves as the state’s general treasurer and is leading all Democratic candidates in public polling, said he would have “tackled it in a different way” by lowering interest rates. Fox called Biden’s plan a “good starting point,” but said the federal government should focus on making higher education more affordable.

Segal said the loan forgiveness should have been higher at $50,000 per student, while Morgenthau said she was pleased with Biden’s decision, saying it would put more money back into the economy.

They agree on a lot

While the four Democrats didn’t agree on everything, they did see eye-to-eye on several big issues.

All agreed creating federal protections around abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade would be a top priority for them in Congress.

The candidates also said they want to ban assault-style weapons, legalize marijuana, keep Nancy Pelosi as House Democrats’ leader, and steer more money for at-home COVID testing — a federal appropriation that’s shortly coming to an end.

But the candidates were split on term limits for U.S. representatives, with Morgenthau and Segal opposing the idea while Fox and Magaziner support it.

Not all sold on Biden running again

One place where the Democrats didn’t all want to be pinned down was about whether Biden should run for a second term in 2024.

Morgenthau said he should run for re-election; Fox said she’d support him if “he would like to run again.” Segal said he stood “with most Democrats” in saying that “it’s a little too early to say.”

Magaziner praised Biden for being “on a roll lately,” but stopped short of saying whether he thought Biden should run again — saying only “if he chooses to run again I think he’ll earn the support of most Americans.”

The 12 News/RWU poll in May showed only 40% of likely Democratic primary voters in Rhode Island thought Biden should run for re-election.

Residency, experience and Fung loom large

While the candidates didn’t throw many punches, the biggest points of contention surrounded where they live and how they might match up in the general election against Fung.

Fox — who trailed Magaziner by more than 30 points in the most recent 12 News/RWU poll — has made her roots in the 2nd District one of the keystones of her campaign. Fox argues she’s the only Democrat who truly understands the district because she grew up there and could go to toe-to-toe on that with Fung, a popular longtime Cranston mayor.

Magaziner pushed back on Fox’s argument, saying that while he’s only just recently moved to the 2nd District, he’s represented the entire state for nearly a decade as general treasurer and people have come to know him as someone who delivers results.

Morgenthau, who only just recently moved to Rhode Island full-time from Washington, D.C., argued she has years of experience as a government official who can get things done at the federal level due to her time working in the Biden and Obama administrations. She and Fox also said they constantly hear from Rhode Islanders who are ready to elect the first woman Democrat to ever represent Congress from Rhode Island.

Segal, a former state representative and Providence city councilman who was once a member of the Green Party, said his progressive values are what people want to see in Washington.

The candidates were asked a wide variety of other questions during the hour-long debate. Clips of those discussions can be found broken down by issue below.



Closing remarks

Post debate analysis

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.