PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The packed field of Democrats seeking to replace retiring Congressman Jim Langevin grew more crowded on Thursday as an official who recently departed the Biden administration announced her candidacy.
Sarah Morgenthau, who just stepped down as a senior U.S. Department of Commerce official focused on tourism, released a video and launched a website confirming that she is seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat. Local Democrats had been buzzing about her potential candidacy in recent weeks.
“These unprecedented times demand leadership with global experience but Ocean State perspective,” Morgenthau said in the video. “And that’s exactly what I’ll bring to Congress.” She described her priorities as recovering from the pandemic, adding jobs, addressing climate change, expanding tourism, and lowering the cost of living.
Morgenthau has spent her career outside Rhode Island, but cited the fact that her family has had a summer residence in Saunderstown for years and that her mother, Ruth, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Congress in the same district back in 1988. A town official said Morgenthau registered to vote at the family’s Saunderstown property, now owned by her and her husband, on Feb. 4.
Morgenthau alluded to questions about her ties to the state in the video, saying, “While work has pulled us elsewhere, Rhode Island is the place that has remained constant in all of our lives.” She also noted that she and her husband got married in the backyard of the Saunderstown home.
In a short telephone interview, Morgenthau told 12 News she had been in Rhode Island “very regularly” over “the last couple of years,” and lived in the state full-time for a period during the 2020 campaign.
“One thing that the pandemic did was make us think about what was really important,” she said, emphasizing that her family had owned its Saunderstown home for nearly 40 years and that the property “was our constant” even when she resided elsewhere.
Five other Democrats have formally launched campaigns for the 2nd District nomination since Langevin unexpectedly announced his retirement last month: General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, former state Rep. Ed Pacheco, former political staffer Joy Fox, Refugee Dream Center founder Omar Bah, and political operative Michael Neary.
Two more, former state Rep. David Segal and Providence firefighter Cameron Moquin, have also filed with the Federal Election Commission to seek the Democratic nomination but have not yet kicked off their campaigns. The filing deadline isn’t until the end of June.
Among Republicans, the most prominent candidate so far is former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, while state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz and former state Rep. Robert Lancia are also seeking the GOP nomination.
Morgenthau said she is still in the earliest stages of getting her campaign off the ground. “I’m just focused on putting together my campaign structure, raising money, and figuring out how it’s all going to be,” she said. (She also said the timing of her launch was set before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.)
She declined to say whether she will put her own money into the race, but said, “I’m putting my head down right now and I have an incredible network from all the different experiences that I’ve had across the country and people are being really wonderful about it. So I’m spending a lot of time building that campaign and of course fundraising.”
Morgenthau’s LinkedIn profile indicates she has spent her career in Washington, New York City and New Jersey, including at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the latter part of the Obama administration. She previously worked on the finance team for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and before that served on the staff of New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, her profile shows.
One connection tying Morgenthau to Rhode Island in recent years is with the woman who was her boss at the Commerce Department, former Gov. Gina Raimondo, now U.S. commerce secretary.
In 2017, Raimondo appointed Morgenthau to the Rhode Island Governor’s Homeland Security Advisory Board, a panel Raimondo said she created at the time to advise her on “the complex threats that exist today.” Morgenthau was then a managing director at Nardello and Co., a company that conducts investigations.
The following year, Morgenthau donated $1,000 to Raimondo’s re-election campaign, listing as her address a home in Washington, D.C. It is the only campaign contribution listed for Morgenthau in the R.I. Board of Elections records database. (Records compiled by the transparency group OpenSecrets show Morgenthau has made contributions to various Democrats at the federal level, though none from Rhode Island.)
Morgenthau also confirmed she discussed her candidacy with Raimondo. “Of course,” she said. “I mean, Governor Raimondo is my former boss as the secretary of commerce. … So she knows what my plans are and I did talk to her about them.”
Later Thursday, Morgenthau’s campaign released an endorsement of her candidacy by former R.I. Attorney General James O’Neil, who served in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “I’ve known Sarah for more than 30 years and know that she’ll be a tremendous asset to us in Congress,” he said.
Morgenthau’s family has a long history in Democratic politics. Her grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Jr., served as treasury secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and her uncle, Robert Morgenthau, was a legendary New York prosecutor.
Her mother, Ruth Morgenthau, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Rhode Island in 1988 as the Democratic nominee against Republican incumbent Claudine Schneider, and also wrote a biography of Rhode Island U.S. Sen. John Pastore.
Sarah Morgenthau was a key fundraiser for President Biden’s 2020 campaign, according to an article last year in Politico that described her as “both a public and behind-the-scenes force” in Biden’s orbit.
“She was national co-chair of Lawyers for Biden, a prolific fundraiser and a volunteer on national security policy groups for the campaign,” Politico reported. “She served as a surrogate who was frequently quoted in national publications about the trajectory of the race or the temperature of donors.”
Morgenthau and her husband have three children, Teddy, Henry and Mizia, according to her Twitter bio.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) 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