PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Less than 48 hours after the polls closed in Rhode Island’s primary election, national Democrats and Republicans are already engaged in a full-scale battle for control of the state’s open 2nd Congressional District.
The district, which covers the western half of Rhode Island, is the state’s first open U.S. House seat since 2010 thanks to the unexpected retirement of Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin, who has held it for two decades.
The Democratic primary was anticlimactic: General Treasurer Seth Magaziner entered the race as the favorite and remained the frontrunner throughout, with far more money and endorsements than his five opponents. He won on Tuesday with 54% of the vote, running 38 percentage points ahead of the second-place finisher, David Segal.
That set up a marquee clash for the November election between Magaziner, scion of a famous Democratic Party family with close ties to the Clintons, and Republican Allan Fung, the former Cranston mayor with deep roots in the district. Fung faced no primary opponents Tuesday after GOP leaders helped engineer a smooth path to the nomination for him.
Only one poll has been conducted so far testing a Magaziner-Fung matchup, a Boston Globe/Suffolk University survey back in June that showed Fung ahead, 45% to 39%. But Democrats argue the political environment has shifted since then, due to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade and President Biden’s improved poll ratings.
Magaziner had a substantial but shrinking financial advantage over Fung as of Aug. 24, according to their latest Federal Election Commission filings, which showed the Democrat at nearly $1.4 million and Fung at nearly $1 million. Both have been spending significant sums in recent weeks on TV advertising and other campaign costs.
In the eyes of Washington Democrats, no open seat in New England is more at risk of flipping to Republicans than Rhode Island’s 2nd District. They’ve made clear that holding the seat is a priority as the party fights to keep its narrow majority this fall.
On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced that Magaziner was being added to its “Red to Blue” program, which spokesperson James Singer said “arms top-tier candidates like Magaziner with organizational and fundraising support to help them continue to develop strong campaigns.”
(Singer acknowledged that Magaziner isn’t technically a “Red to Blue” candidate, since he’s trying to keep a seat that Democrats already hold rather than flip a GOP-held district.)
Magaziner’s campaign wasted no time going on the offensive, launching a TV ad the morning after the primary that criticizes Fung for refusing to distance himself from former President Donald Trump and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.
In a sign of where Democrats plan to focus their campaigning, the spot argues that by supporting McCarthy for speaker of the House, Fung will be helping GOP leaders “cut Social Security” and “pass a national abortion ban.” (Asked to back up the claims, the Magaziner campaign pointed to reports that McCarthy has supported lowering Social Security benefits and outlawing abortions after 15 weeks.)
“Allan Fung: another ‘yes man’ for a Trump-extremist agenda,” a narrator darkly intones to close the ad.
Magaziner’s team also seized on a report by Punchbowl News, which covers Capitol Hill, that Missouri Congressman Jason Smith will be visiting Rhode Island to support Fung this weekend. (Smith is competing to be the next chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.) The visit coincides with a planned “national deployment” this weekend by the Young Republican National Federation to support both Fung and Ashley Kalus, the GOP gubernatorial nominee.
Asked about Smith’s visit, Fung spokesperson Steven Paiva said: “We appreciate members acknowledging the amazing results Allan has had in Cranston, and the laser-focused campaign that he is running. Allan looks forward to working with national leaders in both parties to address the rising cost of living and fixing our economy.”
Fung’s allies in turn were on TV backing him within 24 hours of the Magaziner attack ad’s first showing.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with House Republican leadership, went on the air Thursday with its own attack ad criticizing Magaziner. The spot mocks Magaziner for belonging to “one of Rhode Island’s elite families” and for using hundreds of thousands of dollars in family money to finance his successful 2014 campaign for treasurer.
The commercial also argues Magaziner supports “tax breaks for elite families like his paid for with billions in new taxes on families making less than $75,000 a year.” (Asked for backup, the group pointed in part to a Joint Committee on Taxation analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act, which Magaziner supports, while his campaign pointed to a fact-check piece downplaying the claim.)
“In Washington, Magaziner will fit right in. But we can’t afford him in Congress,” the ad’s narrator concludes.
Calvin Moore, a spokesperson for the Congressional Leadership Fund, said the group is putting $1 million behind its advertising campaign in the 2nd District.
12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said he wasn’t surprised that the 2nd District race heated up so fast.
“The first two days tell me that the national Democrats and the national Republicans in Washington are taking this as a very serious race that either one could possibly win, because they’re both investing money in this race already,” Fleming said.
“I expect to see a lot of outside money coming into the 2nd District from both sides,” he said. “I expect to see a lot of negative ads in this campaign — each one is going to try to define their opponent, and the outside groups are going to try to define the person they don’t want.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.