1. Gabe Amo’s surprisingly decisive victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Congress revealed that the field of candidates wasn’t really as crowded as it looked on paper. Yes, there were 12 names on the ballot, 11 of whom were still actively campaigning as of Tuesday. But it didn’t matter if there were 120 names on the ballot — what mattered was how many of them were breaking through to the average voter. In the end, only four Democrats had the resources to do that: Amo, Aaron Regunberg, Sandra Cano and Sabina Matos. With Matos’s campaign terminally damaged by the end, just three viable candidates remained — Amo, Regunberg and Cano — and Cano’s team always knew they couldn’t win the primary if mass-media advertising was going to be a major factor (it was). Thus Regunberg unexpectedly spent the final days of the race in something much closer to a head-to-head contest, facing a more traditional Democrat playing up his ties to the party’s last two presidents. And the same message which had allowed Regunberg to lock down his left-wing base left him unable to broaden his coalition to attract more moderate voters who had an appealing alternative on offer in Amo. Political strategist Cara Cromwell, who was part of Amo’s kitchen cabinet, said on this week’s Newsmakers she saw firsthand what helped carry him to victory. “What I saw was a really good, strong candidate, plus good fundraising, plus a well-run campaign that had the benefit of some good timing of other people’s problems, but at the same time always had a positive message and gave people a reason to vote for him,” she said.
2. Gabe Amo’s primary win made history, marking the first time the Rhode Island Democratic Party has ever nominated a person of color for Congress. And party leaders have moved quickly to coalesce around him, planning a unity news conference Sunday morning where Amo will be flanked by everyone from Senator Reed to Speaker Shekarchi. The mood among Democrats is markedly different from this time a year ago, when many had serious concerns about whether Seth Magaziner would be able to defeat Allan Fung to hold the 2nd Congressional District. By contrast, the 1st District leans so strongly Democratic that there is widespread confidence Amo shouldn’t have trouble against Republican nominee Gerry Leonard. Still, no good politician takes anything for granted, and Amo says he’s ready to make his case to the wider electorate. “We’re going to deploy the same strategies we did for this primary,” he told me. “It’s proximity to voters across the district. All 19 cities and towns need to hear the choice that they have.” Leonard, a political newcomer who spent three decades in the U.S. Marine Corps, knows the odds but argues he still has a path to victory by stressing bipartisanship and the need for change in Washington. “We need someone that can unite the state, unite the district, and quite frankly get down to D.C. and be an independent thinker,” Leonard told me. It’s doubtful Amo will agree to Leonard’s call for 12 debates over the next eight weeks, but both have already agreed to at least one, here on WPRI. President Biden has also offered to help Amo during the fall campaign — it will be interesting to see whether the candidate takes his former boss up on that.
3. There have been some significant geographic shifts in the electorate since the last time the 1st Congressional District seat was open 13 years ago. Take two communities: Pawtucket and Barrington. In 2010, when David Cicilline first ran for Congress, Pawtucket residents cast nearly 9,000 Democratic primary votes; that fell to under 6,000 in last year’s regularly scheduled primary, and not even 4,000 in this week’s special primary. Contrast that with Barrington, where the number of Democratic primary votes has nearly doubled over the same span of time, from about 1,300 in the 2010 race to almost 2,500 this week. Indeed, almost as many Barrington voters cast Democratic primary ballots this week as did so last year, meaning there was almost no drop-off in turnout despite the unusual circumstances of the current special election.
4. Eli Sherman has an interactive map of how each 1st District city and town voted.
5. One outside group that has seen its reputation seriously diminished in this region of late is EMILYs List, which is dedicated to electing Democratic women nationwide and has long been viewed as a powerhouse in party politics. Take a look at the scoreboard. In 2020, EMILYs List refused to endorse any of the women seeking Joe Kennedy’s seat, apparently confident one of them would come out on top — only to see Jake Auchincloss defeat Jesse Mermell by a single percentage point. Last year, the group didn’t convince a strong female candidate to enter the race for Jim Langevin’s seat, leading to Seth Magaziner’s coronation; the group also gave its gubernatorial endorsement to Nellie Gorbea, who came in third, rather than Helena Foulkes, who came within 3,000 votes of defeating Dan McKee. And this year, EMILYs List backed Sabina Matos early and eventually blew $250,000 on generic TV ads for her, even after the damage of the signature scandal was done, thus helping prevent Sandra Cano from supplanting Matos as the strongest female candidate. Considering Democratic incumbents in these parts almost always get re-elected for as long as they please, allowing three open U.S. House seats to go to men in their 30s could set back women’s chances of making gains in the local delegation for years to come. At least one political insider closely familiar with EMILYs List thinks the whiffs are partly due to the group’s transformation from a storm-the-castle antiestablishment outfit to a pillar of the institutional Democratic Party, with all the overlapping loyalties that creates. EMILYs List spokesperson Danni Wang sees it differently. “EMILYs List is focused on the critical and difficult work of electing Democratic, pro-choice women,” she told me. “We were proud to support and help elect numerous Southern New England leaders up and down the ballot, including Gov. Maura Healey, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, state Sen. Bridget Valverde and state Sen. Victoria Gu, who are fighting for abortion access and keeping Republican anti-choice extremists accountable.”
6. While Sandra Cano came in well behind Gabe Amo and Aaron Regunberg to take third place on Tuesday, in the long run she will likely be an example of someone whose unsuccessful campaign still paid dividends. Cano’s strategy of lining up a huge number of endorsements from other politicians and unions, then relying on all of them to get out the vote in their spheres of influence, wasn’t enough to win a primary that drew about 40,000 voters to the polls. Nevertheless, over the course of the campaign it became clear that there is genuine respect and deep affection for Cano among many other elected officials, plenty of whom made real efforts to assist her that went beyond just sending endorsement press releases. And she acknowledged her loss to Amo on a classy note Tuesday night, racing across their shared hometown of Pawtucket from her own party to his so she could enthusiastically congratulate him in person. “Pawtucket is going to do this,” Cano declared.
7. Sabina Matos, unlike Sandra Cano, ends the congressional primary in far worse shape politically than she was when she entered the race. The signature scandal — which is back on the Board of Elections agenda for next week — left her with dismal favorability ratings among Democratic primary voters; it’s safe to assume her standing is even lower with the broader public. “I would think in 2026 you may see her challenged in the Democratic primary, because people right now see her as wounded,” 12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said on this week’s Newsmakers. The good news for Matos is that she has three years to restore her reputation with voters before she needs to be on the ballot again. And one important part of that could be healing her relationship with the man who put her in the LG’s job in the first place, Dan McKee. There has been an unmistakable frostiness in their relationship of late, as evidenced by his refusal to endorse her (or even say he voted for her) and her giving his job performance a letter grade of “incomplete” during a debate. Still, McKee aides were quick to downplay suggestions of a deeper rupture. “As the governor has said a few times since Tuesday – he has reached out and connected with the lieutenant governor,” McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff told me. “There is a lot of important work that they’ve started together — from the RI 2030 plan (which she played a big role in), to housing and more. They will continue working to make progress on these and other issues important to Rhode Islanders.”
8. The 1st Congressional District race won’t be the only one on the ballot during the Nov. 7 special election. Voters in Providence will also be choosing a successor to replace the late Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, with Democrat Jake Bissaillon facing Republican Niyoka Powell.
9. Two notable stories from my colleague Eli Sherman: a major cannabis business is poised to lose its license, and housing construction around the Pawtucket soccer stadium won’t start before late next year.
10. WCVB’s Chronicle profiled state Rep. David Morales’s side career as a wrestler.
11. A political deep dive well worth your time: Politico’s Sasha Issenberg examines some of the lessons about how to reach voters in 2023 that are being learned by Ron DeSantis’s massive super PAC.
12. Peter Baker relays the Kennedy family’s anguish over Bobby Jr.’s White House bid.
13. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers — a political roundtable breaks down the 1st Congressional District primary results and looks ahead to the special 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 (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 Twitter and Facebook.