Political Unknown’s Personal Wealth Kick-Starts Special Election

  • Rhode Island field includes former Obama-Biden aide
  • Edwards leads three Republicans seeking Utah district

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A deep-pocketed candidate is flexing his wealth as Democrats in Rhode Island prepare to fill the seat left open by Rep. David Cicilline.

Investor Don Carlson, a first-time candidate who loaned his campaign $600,000, has the early cash advantage in an extensive field, according to quarterly disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission. Carlson will need that money to introduce himself to a electorate bound to be more familiar with some of his rivals in the 1st District, including the state’s current lieutenant governor as well as past and present state lawmakers.

Rhode Island is one of two states filling US House vacancies this year. The other is Republican-heavy Utah. In both states, the Sept. 5 primaries are the elections to watch because of the single-party election dominance.

Photo provided by the campaign
Don Carlson (D) is seeking a US House seat in Rhode Island

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos (D) may be the front-runner in Rhode Island, in part because she was just elected statewide last November, though she’ll have to so some catching up if her campaign hopes to match the bankrolls of competitors. As July began, her campaign had $215,000 available following contributions from donors that included Emily’s List, which aids Democratic women who support abortion rights, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus PAC.

Among the rival Democrats:

  • Carlson’s campaign reported beginning July with $770,000 banked after the candidate’s loan and additional fundraising from donors including Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a longtime friend.
  • Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg ($397,000 cash-on-hand) received donations from some former state House colleagues, the Communications Workers of America union’s PAC, and the Jane Fonda Climate PAC associated with the actress and environmental activist.
  • State Sen. Sandra Cano ($250,000) of Pawtucket received donations from Pawtucket mayor Donald Grebien and some current and former colleagues in the legislature.
  • Gabe Amo‘s ($311,000) donor list reflects contacts he made in the Obama and Biden administrations, most recently as the Biden White House’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs working with local elected officials.

Mayors Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio and Aftab Pureval of Cincinnati and ex-mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia donated to Amo’s campaign, as did Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina and Pete Rouse, who was an interim White House chief of staff for Obama. Jerry Abramson, a former Louisville mayor and Kentucky lieutenant governor who led the White House intergovernmental affairs office at the end of the Obama administration, also chipped in to Amo’s campaign.

First-Generation Americans Vie to Fill Cicilline’s House Seat

Rhode Island election officials are determining how many of the 22 Democrats who filed a declaration of candidacy also submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the primary ballot. The winner of the Democratic primary will be favored to win the Nov. 7 special general election and succeed Cicilline (D), who resigned June 1.

Utah Field

The same day Democrats in Rhode Island’s 1st District will pick Cicilline’s likely successor, Republican voters in Utah’s 2nd District will be choosing a nominee who will be heavily favored to succeed Rep. Chris Stewart (R), who’s resigning Sept. 15.

Former state Rep. Becky Edwards is the most cash-rich of the three Republican candidates with $285,000 on hand, in part because of a $100,000 personal loan. Edwards has residual name recognition after opposing Sen. Mike Lee (R) in a 2022 primary.

(Keep up with congressional election trends and more with our Ballots & Boundaries newsletter.)

Celeste Maloy, Stewart’s former counsel, had $41,000 left to spend on June 30, six days after she prevailed at a nominating convention to earn a spot on the primary ballot. Maloy’s campaign relied on one-on-one contact with fewer than 1,000 voting convention delegates, though she’ll have to ramp up her fundraising to get better-known among a much larger primary electorate.

Celebri-Dad, House Aide Want Congress Seat

Bruce Hough, a businessman and longtime Utah Republican activist, joined Edwards in qualifying for the ballot by submitting enough signatures of registered Republican voters in the district. Hough ended June with about $35,000 in cash-on-hand, though the $203,000 he self-financed suggests he could tap more personal wealth.

Hough’s donors included his son, professional dancer Derek Hough.

Image from a video posted to Facebook page of Bruce Hough
Utah congressional candidate Bruce Hough, right, with his son Derek

The Republican nominee will be favored over Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the Nov. 21 special general election.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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