PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Eight Democrats vying to win next week’s primary for Rhode Island’s open seat in Congress squared off Tuesday night in a live televised 12 News debate, tangling over issues from health care to military spending.
The eight candidates — former White House official Gabe Amo, former U.S. Navy officer Walter Berbrick, state Rep. Stephen Casey, state Sen. Sandra Cano, Providence City Councilor John Goncalves, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, state Sen. Ana Quezada, and former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg — made their cases to voters in the 1st Congressional District for an hour on stage at Rhode Island College’s Roberts Hall.
Target 12 Chief Investigative Reporter Tim White and 12 News Politics Editor Ted Nesi moderated the debate, which was the only one scheduled to be televised in primetime and featuring all participants on stage at once.
Below is a breakdown of key topics discussed during the debate.
Skip to a topic: Debt ceiling ☆ Health care ☆ Campaign contributions ☆ Climate change/alternative energy ☆ Term limits/early voting ☆ Defense spending ☆ Marijuana legalization ☆ Closing statements ☆ Analysis
US economy and the debt ceiling
The candidates shared whether they would’ve voted for the bill that prevented the country from going into default earlier this year.
What should be done to make sure all Americans have access to affordable health care? The candidates discussed how they would address the issue, if elected.
Some have the candidates have faced criticism for taking donations from super PACs and corporate lobbyists.
Climate change and alternative energy
The Democrats all agreed that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed, but differed on their approach, as well as their support of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s nuclear energy bill.
Rapid fire (term limits, Ukraine support, early voting)
Should there be term limits for the U.S. House of Representatives? What about the Supreme Court? Should early voting be reduced, expanded, or stay the same? The candidates share their thoughts.
Given Rhode Island’s stake in the defense industry, would any of the candidates seek to cut the country’s military budget?
Rapid fire (marijuana legalization, Daylight Saving Time)
Would the candidates support legalizing recreational marijuana at the federal level? What about making Daylight Saving Time permanent?
Each candidate was given 45 seconds to make a final pitch to voters.
Del’s or Mr. Lemon?
One final question that could very well decide the outcome of the race.
Moderator Ted Nesi and 12 News Political Analyst Joe Fleming break down the debate with anchor Adriana Rozas Rivera.
The special election was called after veteran Democrat David Cicilline announced last February he would step down to become CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation. The eventual Democratic nominee will go on to face the winner of the Republican primary between Gerry Leonard and Terri Flynn in the November special election.
No public polling has been conducted in the 1st District primary, but a survey released last week by Amo’s campaign showed Regunberg leading the pack, with Amo in second and a third-place tie between Matos and Cano. The latter two disputed the data.
More than 6,000 Rhode Island voters had already cast a ballot in the Sept. 5 special primary through in-person early voting or mail ballots as of Tuesday morning, according to the secretary of state’s online tracking tool. Political observers think turnout could be as low as roughly 30,000.
(A ninth Democrat, Don Carlson, suspended his campaign on Sunday. Three other Democrats — Stephanie Beauté, Spencer Dickinson and Allen Waters — failed to meet the nationwide debate-qualification criteria set by WPRI 12 parent company Nexstar Media Group.)