1. As Rhode Island’s candidates for Congress embark on a final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday’s primary, Aaron Regunberg appears to be in the driver’s seat. His leftist message — validated by Bernie Sanders and AOC, and paired with plenty of money and relentless organizing — has him well-positioned in a race many think can be won with less than 30% of the vote. If Regunberg comes up short, it may turn out he peaked too early, turning him into a human piñata for the final stretch of the campaign. The opponent Regunberg and his allies seem most concerned about is Gabe Amo, who has gained momentum since releasing an internal poll showing him in second place. Amo needs to cut into Regunberg’s margins on Providence’s East Side and do well in the East Bay if he wants to be successful. Sandra Cano’s team has gotten used to being underestimated over the course of the campaign; they’re banking on robust get-out-the-vote efforts by the politicians and unions who’ve endorsed her. “It’s a risky strategy, it’s a narrow path, but it’s a path that could work in an election when you have 12 people on the ballot,” our political analyst Joe Fleming said of Cano on this week’s Newsmakers. Meanwhile, it’s a mark of how far onetime frontrunner Sabina Matos has fallen that if she wins the race it would now qualify as a major upset. Still, over $1 million has been spent trying to elect Matos; it’s possible she could outperform the diminished expectations. And remember: this thing could be very close. If voter turnout is between 30,000 and 40,000, as Fleming expects, the winning Democrat may not even need to crack 10,000 to capture the nomination.
2. One interesting subplot this final week has been the competing efforts to define Aaron Regunberg for primary voters. Regunberg has always positioned himself to the left of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation; he is more of an Elizabeth Warren/Ed Markey Democrat than a Jack Reed/Sheldon Whitehouse one. (And if you think all four of them are the same, I’ve got news for you.) Throughout the campaign, Regunberg has seemed unsure of how he wanted to handle that tension. He grabbed headlines by saying he would vote “no” on the debt-ceiling deal, yet wouldn’t criticize Rhode Island’s current delegation for all voting “yes,” and then in our debate went so far as to say he himself would have voted “yes” if necessary to pass the bill. And over the course of this week Regunberg seemed to go out of his way to align himself with the delegation, praising David Cicilline and Sheldon Whitehouse in debates and even calling Cicilline “a Rhode Island hero” in a tweet Friday. But Patrick Kennedy, who is making an energetic last-minute push for Gabe Amo and of course knows the delegation’s dynamics well, made the counterargument while speaking to reporters Friday. “The notion that he would come out against the largest economic driver in the 1st District, the defense economy, left me flabbergasted,” Kennedy said of Regunberg, adding, “The way you fight for Rhode Island jobs is you don’t cancel out Jack Reed, who’s chairman of the appropriations for defense spending. That’s what Aaron Regunberg would do.” If Regunberg wins, his relationship with Reed will be interesting to watch.
3. There are 12 Democrats on Tuesday’s primary ballot, all but one of whom (Don Carlson) are still running active campaigns. Political observers will be stunned if someone outside the top four actually wins the nomination, but that doesn’t mean those campaigns don’t matter. For one thing, every additional person on the ballot who pulls a measurable share of the vote lowers the bar that must be cleared by the winner. The crowded field has decidedly impacted the dynamics of the debates and press coverage, as well. And when the results come in Tuesday night, watch to see whether the strength of the also-rans in their own backyards helps tip the balance at the top. John Goncalves has support on the East Side of Providence, where Aaron Regunberg and Gabe Amo both need to perform well. Ana Quezada is a force in South Providence. Stephen Casey should do well in his hometown of Woonsocket. Sifting through the returns on Wednesday is going to be fascinating, and could lead to a lot of what-might-have-beens for the losing candidates.
4. As the Projo’s Patrick Anderson pointed out when we appeared together this week on public radio’s Political Roundtable, the Republican primary for Congress is even more of a mystery than the Democratic one. GOP turnout is expected to be extremely low, not only because just 12% of 1st District voters are registered Republicans but also due to the unusual timing of the special election. Most political observers have taken for granted that political newcomer Gerry Leonard has the upper hand over former Middletown Town Councilor Terri Flynn, largely because Leonard has endorsements from the state GOP as well as major party leaders such as Jessica de la Cruz and Mike Chippendale. Will the fall campaign be a coronation for the Democratic nominee, or will the GOP’s standard-bearer be able to make it interesting?
5. As always, 12 News has you covered for primary results on Tuesday. We’ll have coverage throughout the day on TV and online, including special reports during CBS programming once polls close at 8 p.m. and a full recap of results in our late newscasts starting at 10 p.m. on Fox Providence. And if you’re still making up your mind, check out our Voter Guide, as well as full video of our debate or the Newsmakers recap with highlights.
6. One more on the 1st Congressional District (and the 2nd): the Rhode Island Current’s Chris Shea has a fun look at the funky geography of the two U.S. House seats.
7. While Rhode Island’s political class is consumed by the race to succeed him, David Cicilline is continuing to settle into his new job leading the Rhode Island Foundation, where he started as CEO three months ago. But there might be moments where he feels like he’s still in his congressional office. North Providence native Chris Bizzacco, who served as Cicilline’s district director for six years, has followed him to the foundation, where Bizzacco now serves as chief of staff. And Bizzacco’s predecessor as district director, Arianne Corrente, was already well-established at the foundation as its vice president of communications and marketing.
8. Some important stories from my colleagues this week you might have missed … Eli Sherman and Sarah Guernelli revealed that Rhode Island’s call-center wait times for Medicaid enrollees are far longer than in neighboring states … Alexandra Leslie reports the governor is considering a request from the city of Providence for $45 million to renovate the Cranston Street Armory … Kate Wilkinson previewed Rhode Island’s soon-to-be-open safe-injection site.
9. An alarming story out of Johnston from The Globe’s Amanda Milkovits: Mayor Joe Polisena Jr. has yanked legal ads from the town weekly — published by Rhode Island’s most esteemed old-school newspaperman — seemingly because the mayor dislikes its Town Hall coverage.
10. Still a little hard to believe that in less than three years, Gina Raimondo has gone from governing the country’s smallest state to conducting high-stakes diplomacy in Beijing. And it’s also striking that Raimondo appears to have more influence in President Biden’s administration than the woman who beat her out for the vice-presidency.
11. Former R.I. Superior Court Associate Justice Francis Darigan argues, “Rhode Island is going through a period of incredible and transformative generational change.”
12. Kudos to my friend Will Geoghegan of South County’s Independent newspaper on writing about his decision to shift to freelance sportswriting so he can be a full-time Dad.
13. Labor Day is Monday, and while for many Americans it’s a chance for a final burst of summer fun, for unions the holiday’s original meaning remains important. Appearing on 12 News at 4 this week, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Crowley told Kim Kalunian why that’s particularly true in Rhode Island. “In 1882 Rhode Island was the first state to have an official Labor Day celebration,” Crowley told Kim. “And even though some other states might lay claim to it — just like the Boston people like to say the Tea Party started the Revolution, even though Rhode Islanders know it was the Gaspee affair — in Rhode Island we lay claim to having the first Labor Day celebration to honor working men and women for all the hard work they do.” Crowley also highlighted two Labor Day events on the calendar for Monday, the annual commemoration of the 1934 Saylesville Massacre in Central Falls, and the premiere of a new documentary about a mill village in North Smithfield.
14. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — highlights from our 1st Congressional District Democratic primary debate and a look ahead to next week’s election. 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 (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.