Rhode Island voters are casting their ballots Tuesday in a primary contest to winnow down a field of candidates vying for the U.S. House seat vacated by former Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, including a handful who could make history by being the first person of color to go on to be elected to Congress from Rhode Island.
Nearly a dozen Democrats are hoping to be their party’s nominee. Cicilline stepped down earlier this summer to become the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
Two Republican candidates are also facing off in the GOP primary in the heavily Democratic state. The last Republican to represent the 1st Congressional District was Rep. Ron Machtley who served from 1989 to 1995.
Among the presumed pack of Democratic front-runners are Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, state Sen. Sandra Cano, and former White House aide Gabe Amo.
Matos, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is the state’s first Afro-Latina lieutenant governor, would be the first Latina to represent Rhode Island in the House.
Matos said if elected she would vote to ban assault weapons, work to make Rhode Island a leader in offshore wind energy and support abortion rights.
During the campaign, Matos was criticized after her nomination papers allegedly included the names of dead people and some who said their names were forged. The Rhode Island Board of Elections said it found no obvious pattern of fraud.
Regunberg has tried to position himself as the most progressive of the front-runners, winning the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and actress Jane Fonda.
Regunberg has said one of his top priorities would be tackling the country’s “cost of living crisis” including stopping big businesses from price gouging, breaking up corporate monopolies and taxing excess corporate profits.
Cano, who was born in Colombia and is the first Latina to chair the state Senate Education Committee, would also be the first Latina to represent Rhode Island in the House if elected.
Cano has said she supports a “wealth tax” to help ensure the highest earners pay their fair share. She also said she would fight for a federal $15 minimum wage and link future increases to the rate of inflation.
Amo, who grew up in Pawtucket the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants, would be the first Black candidate elected to the U.S. House from Rhode Island.
Amo said he would press to ban assault-style weapons, fight against Republican attempts to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare, work to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, and pursue efforts to combat climate change.
Amo won the endorsement of former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represented the district from 1995 to 2011.
The outcome of the Democratic primary in the heavily Democratic state may likely decide who will represent Rhode Island in the House.
The Republican primary contests pits Terri Flynn against Gerry Leonard, a U.S. Marine veteran.
Flynn served on the Middletown Town Council from 2018-2022 and has said she would focus on policies to bring down the cost of living, bolster energy independence and support domestic manufacturing.
Leonard has criticized “Bidenomics,” saying Democratic President Joe Biden’s economic plan hasn’t helped ordinary citizens.
He also said he favors a more limited government and supports U.S. efforts to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia, but said the U.S. also needs clear goals and an exit strategy.
Both candidates say abortion is a state issue.
Other Democrats on the ballot include Stephanie Beaute, former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Walter Berbrick, state Rep. Stephen Casey, Providence City Council member John Goncalves, state Sen. Ana Quezada, Allen Waters and Spencer Dickinson.
Polls will be open until 8 p.m. Tuesday. The special election is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Steve LeBlanc is a writer for The Associated Press.