PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One of the most influential groups in Democratic Party politics is taking sides in the crowded primary to replace former Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline.

Emily’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, announced Wednesday morning it is endorsing Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos for the 1st Congressional District seat. Matos is one of 15 Democrats running in the Sept. 5 primary election to replace Cicilline.

“Emily’s List has been proud to support Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos since her run for Providence City Council in 2010, and we have been thrilled with all she has accomplished for Rhode Islanders in the years since,” Laphonza Butler, the group’s president, said in a statement.

WATCH: Ted Nesi interviews Dave Wasserman from The Cook Political Report about the CD1 race (Story continues below.)

She continued, “Matos has been a champion for women, youth, and working families, and she has been a strong supporter of reproductive freedom throughout her time in elected office.”

Matos said she was “honored and thrilled” by the endorsement.

“For decades, EMILYs List has been working to help pro-choice women run for and win office,” she said. “With our rights under attack in Congress and across the nation, that mission is as important as it has ever been. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she has the same rights as men and more rights than I had but that isn’t true today.”

The Emily’s List endorsement is another boost for Matos — widely seen as the frontrunner in the 1st District primary — that could help her stand out against other female candidates such as state Sens. Sandra Cano and Ana Quezada. It comes a day after Matos received the endorsement of Elect Democratic Women, a committee of incumbent House members chaired by Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel.

“The endorsement from the group is a major sign of institutional Democratic support for Matos,” Punchbowl News, a plugged-in Capitol Hill newsletter, reported Tuesday.

David Wasserman, senior editor at the Cook Political Report and one of the nation’s leading elections forecasters, said the Emily’s List endorsement “solidifies Matos’s initial position as the frontrunner in the race.” He noted that the group’s “donor network is extensive across the country.”

The decision by Emily’s List is also a contrast with how the same organization handled the region’s last crowded Democratic congressional primary: in 2020 the group declined to pick a favorite among the multiple women running to succeed Joe Kennedy III in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District.

Instead, Emily’s List trained its fire that year on the male candidates in the 4th District race in a bid to help all the women at once — only to see the top female vote-getter, Jesse Mermell, lose to Jake Auchincloss by a single percentage point. Mermell’s supporters later expressed frustration about the strategy.

Asked why Emily’s List decided to back Matos rather than staying neutral among the female candidates again, spokesperson Emily Joy Allison called Matos “a groundbreaker and the strongest candidate in the field,” saying she is the first Dominican-American elected to statewide office in the country, the first Black statewide office holder in Rhode Island, and potentially the first Afro-Latina in Congress.

Allison also said that Matos came to the United States at age 20 without speaking English but then became a citizen in 2005, “which gives her critical life experience that Congress needs to better understand and support new Americans.”

Wasserman said, “Emily’s List wants to ensure that the vote for a woman in this race is not split in so many directions that a man wins the seat.”

Still unknown is whether Emily’s List will pair its endorsement with a big financial investment in Matos’s candidacy. Last year the group endorsed Nellie Gorbea for governor but declined to spend significant money to help her against Dan McKee and Helena Foulkes, to the disappointment of Gorbea’s team.

Allison said she couldn’t provide details on potential spending decisions because the arm of Emily’s List that spends money to support candidates — which are technically known as “independent expenditures” — is separate from hers and isn’t allowed to coordinate directly with the staff that makes endorsements.

Other outside groups supporting Matos include the Latino Victory Fund, PODER PAC and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC.

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There has been no public polling in the 1st District primary so far, but Matos’s campaign said an internal survey she conducted earlier this month pegged her support at 22%, well ahead of former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who placed second with 9%. However, the Matos campaign poll found more than 40% primary voters were still undecided.

A hot topic among local political observers is whether Rhode Island’s biggest unions — particularly the Laborers, SEIU and the two teachers unions — will throw their weight behind one or more candidates in the primary. So far the only union that has endorsed is the Communications Workers of America Local 1400, which backed Regunberg.

On Wednesday, Regunberg’s campaign announced a new endorsement from Climate Hawks Vote, a progressive advocacy group that backs candidates who prioritize climate change. RL Miller, the organization’s political director, said the group surveyed its members in the 1st District to decide the endorsement.

“To our surprise in this very fractured field, 100% of the survey respondents in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District told us to endorse Aaron Regunberg,” Miller said in a statement, adding, “We will back up this endorsement with fundraising and volunteer support.”

In addition, Regunberg’s campaign said he has secured the endorsement of the union which represents flight attendants, a separate arm of the Communications Workers of America.

“Aaron Regunberg is clearly trying to consolidate the progressive lane of the race,” Wasserman said. “But there are others vying for that.”

Another candidate, Jamestown businessman Don Carlson, announced an endorsement from Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes, who described Carlson as his “longtime friend” and a “leader focused on creating good solutions and producing results.”

A growing number of elected officials are also taking sides in the primary. Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien backed Cano last week, and Newport Mayor Xay Khamsyvoravong previously endorsed former White House official Gabe Amo.

Ted Nesi ( 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 Twitter and Facebook.