1. One of two things will happen next Tuesday — either Democrat Gabe Amo will be elected to represent Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, or Republican Gerry Leonard will score the state’s biggest political upset so far this century. With just days to go, on Friday the candidates got one final chance to make a big impression on voters during a televised debate on WPRI 12. As you might expect in a district that previously elected a congressman who managed Donald Trump’s impeachment, Leonard is trying to avoid having to discuss the national GOP. At one point in the debate, he said he wasn’t afraid of “getting in the room with other Republicans and fighting against them for Rhode Island.” Amo is running less against Leonard and more against new House Speaker Mike Johnson and the GOP caucus. “Right now that majority in Congress is dysfunctional,” Amo said, arguing, “Speaker Johnson is driving an agenda around division.” The same dynamic was apparent on the subject of presidential politics: Amo didn’t hesitate to endorse Joe Biden for re-election despite his old boss’s bad poll numbers, while Leonard repeatedly declined to say if he supports or opposes renominating Trump. Both candidates plan to spend this final weekend campaigning around the district. But even before they shake all those hands, a lot of the vote is already baked in: nearly 16,000 voters had cast a ballot early by mail or in person as of Friday.
2. An eye-watering $1.5 million worth of outside money poured into Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District during last summer’s hotly contested Democratic primary, the vast majority of it spent on behalf of losing candidates. The fall campaign has been a very different story, with only $26,500 spent so far, all in support of Gabe Amo. Most of that total represents a $25,000 cable TV ad buy from Democrats Serve, a PAC that also supported Amo during the primary. The rest is a small $1,500 digital buy on Amo’s behalf by DMFI PAC, the campaign arm of Democratic Majority for Israel.
3. Assuming Tuesday night’s results reveal a clear winner in the 1st District race, Rhode Island’s new representative should be in place fast. The state’s only current member of the House, Seth Magaziner, says he is expecting the new congressman will be sworn in on the House floor by Speaker Johnson during the week of Nov. 13. (That, don’t forget, is also the week the federal government is set to run out of money and potentially shut down.) Since this is a special election, the new congressman won’t get a two-month post-campaign breather, instead needing to immediately select key staffers, learn his new job and take some major votes. He’ll also need to start running for re-election, since he will be on the ballot only a year from now seeking a full term. If Gerry Leonard scores an upset and wins, he would almost immediately be one of the most vulnerable GOP lawmakers in the House. The more interesting question is what happens if Gabe Amo wins. Members of Congress are always the most vulnerable in their first re-election races — would Amo draw any serious challengers in the 2024 primary or general elections? Potentially, but it’s also entirely possible he wouldn’t. Look across the border at Jake Auchincloss — he squeaked into Congress in 2020 on a razor-thin primary victory, only to run unopposed for a second term two years later. And in Rhode Island, Seth Magaziner still hasn’t drawn a Republican challenger for 2024 despite the massive GOP spending against him just last year.
4. The congressional race may be the most high-profile contest on the ballot in Rhode Island next Tuesday, but it’s far from the only action in town. Voters in roughly a dozen communities are deciding on local referendums, mostly over borrowing for schools and other capital projects. (Central Falls is an exception; voters there are deciding whether to revise the city charter.) The campaigns over those bond questions could actually affect the outcome for Congress, depending on which voters turn out more motivated by local issues than federal ones. For instance, in a sign of just how fired up North Kingstown residents are about the $222 million bond proposal there, the community ranks No. 1 for early voting turnout so far — even though it’s not one of the places electing a new congressman.
5. WPRI 12 is your home for full election coverage on Tuesday night — we’ll have live cut-ins during CBS programming when the polls close and when a winner is declared in the 1st District, followed by complete coverage of the results on 12 News at 10 and 11 p.m., plus full results here on WPRI.com.
6. Governor McKee’s decision to fire Providence City Councilor Miguel Sanchez over the latter’s comments on Israel laid bare the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s divide between an establishment that is steadfastly behind Israel and a left wing that is far more critical of the Jewish state. Sanchez was clearly out of step with his boss, accusing Israel of “genocide” in Gaza and participating in last month’s controversial pro-Palestine rally in Providence. But speaking to reporters Thursday, McKee downplayed the ideological reasons behind Sanchez’s termination, characterizing the firing more as a question of priorities. “Do you spend all your time talking about things that are not important,” McKee asked, “or do you spend all your time working on things that are important?” Sanchez shot back: “If not innocent lives — if not children’s lives — what is important to Governor McKee?” Hours later, the Providence City Council passed a resolution sponsored by Councilor Justin Roias urging Senator Reed, Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Magaziner to support “an immediate De-Escalation and Ceasefire in Israel and Occupied Palestine.” Meanwhile, elected Democrats who disagree with the leftist viewpoint on Israel have begun speaking out more forcefully. They include state Rep. Evan Shanley, a Warwick Democrat and generally no bomb-thrower, who issued a lengthy statement Thursday touching on the Providence rally. “Those who participated in and supported this rally are not entitled to claim ignorance in the face of their own antisemitism,” he said.
7. It was another banner week for controversies involving local mayors. In Woonsocket, the city solicitor is now working to unwind a $1.1 million land deal struck by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt after our Eli Sherman discovered the seller was her former employer and lender. And in East Providence, Mayor Bob DaSilva is under heavy scrutiny after pulling permits to build a “garden shed” that is two stories tall with a bathroom, shower and washer-dryer; the mayor acknowledged to our Adriana Rozas Rivera that he hopes to turn the structure into an ADU if Speaker Shekarchi ever gets that bill through.
8. After nine years as Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman — including a memorable moment in the national spotlight as a propagandist for calamari — Joe McNamara announced Friday he plans to step down from the job. And he immediately endorsed a successor: Jamestown’s Liz Beretta-Perik, a longtime party donor who is currently serving as national committeewoman. Considering Beretta-Perik’s close relationship with Speaker Shekarchi, who controls the state party apparatus, she should have no trouble securing the job. “After years of helping at all levels in our party, I am eager to work to ensure our Democratic Party is well-funded and well-organized to win,” she told members of the party state committee in an email Friday afternoon. If elected, Beretta-Perik also would be the first woman to lead the Democratic Party in Rhode Island.
9. Jack Reed is at the center of one of the biggest fights in Washington these days, as senators continue to grapple with Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of military promotions (in protest of Pentagon abortion policy). Reed has said for months he needs Senate Republicans who disagree with Tuberville’s tactic to break with him and help push through the promotions on a bipartisan basis. And the dam began to break this week, when a small group of GOP senators took to the floor to assail Tuberville. Meanwhile, Reed is working with Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema on a break-glass-for-emergency resolution that would temporarily amend Senate rules to get the military officers through. Many Republicans don’t want Senate rules tweaked, so GOP senators are set to hash out their differences in an internal meeting next week. Meantime, Reed’s prominence at the moment has gotten him booked on “Fox News Sunday” with Shannon Bream this weekend.
10. Who will be the movers and shakers in Rhode Island politics a decade from now? One place to look is the leadership rosters of the two parties’ youth organizations, both of which have new faces at the top. The Young Democrats Rhode Island PAC recently elected a new president, Mary-Murphy Walsh, with Anthony Cherry serving as vice president and Robert Craven Jr. continuing as secretary-treasurer. And the Rhode Island Young Republicans this week announced the election of a new chairman, Alex Rando, who’ll be assisted by Ken Naylor, vice chairman; Elizabeth Bailey, secretary; Anthony D’Ellena, treasurer; Amanda Blau, national committeewoman; Jesus Solorio, national committeeman; and William Grapentine, membership liaison.
11. I spoke earlier this week with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who was touting new federal grants for local ports, with $24.4 million going to New Bedford and $3.9 million going to Quonset’s Davisville. During the interview we also talked about potential federal funding for the massive Cape Cod bridges project — he praised Governor Healey for “a lot of leadership” on the issue, while making no commitments — as well as his relationship with fellow cabinet member Gina Raimondo. “She’s a great colleague,” Buttigieg told me. “She’s somebody I got to know back when I was running for president, and had heard of even before then, going back to her days as state treasurer — had a reputation for intellect and as somebody I was always curious what it would be like to work with.” He added, “The way it works in the cabinet room, when we have a cabinet meeting with the president, I actually sit next to her. And it’s always a good chance to catch up and compare notes.”
12. And speaking of Secretary Raimondo, she just got another big assignment from the president: implementing his new executive order on artificial intelligence. It looks like quite a job.
13. Wishing the best to the staffs of the Woonsocket Call and the Pawtucket Times, whose common ownership has decided to combine the two dailies into one paper starting this month. Ian Donnis reports the merged Call & Times is down to just five newsroom employees.
14. Ahead of Veterans Day, Mike Montecalvo and Johnny Villella devoted this week’s Street Stories to a story you’ll be hard-pressed to watch with a dry eye.
15. You don’t want to miss CBS News correspondent David Begnaud’s terrific “CBS Mornings” feature about a surprise visit he made to Providence. You can watch it here.
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a debate between congressional candidates Gabe Amo and Gerry Leonard. Watch Sunday at 5:30 a.m. on WPRI 12 and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence, or listen on the radio Sunday at 6 p.m. on WPRO. You can also subscribe to Newsmakers as a podcast on iTunes (or wherever you get your podcasts). See you back here next Saturday morning.
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.