What to Know in Washington: Democrats Run Tests in Rhode Island

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Rhode Island has become a temporary Democratic Party laboratory that tests which messages and messengers motivate the base.

The candidates running in the special Sept. 5 primary to replace ex-Rep. David Cicilline (D) offer something for just about every variety of Democrat. Their pitches, policy stances, political styles, and personal backgrounds vary enough to provide insight into which of the party’s power centers might have a leg up as they try to regain control of the House next year.

“This race can give us hints about the persistent battle in the Democratic Party between White very liberal progressives and candidates of color,” said Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller. “Both types of candidates have been successful at attracting outside PAC money, which shows how interest groups can reinforce divisions within the party.”

Photographer: Kate Ackley
Aaron Regunberg shown in August 2023 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination in a special congressional election.

Key groups on Capitol Hill have weighed in, such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC, EMILY’s List, and the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund which endorsed Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos.

Former Biden and Obama administration aide Gabe Amo has the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) headlined a rally for former state lawmaker, Aaron Regunberg, who has the endorsement of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The district, home to waterfront mansions, giant jazz and folk festivals, CVS’ corporate headquarters, and significant immigrant communities, has a population that’s about 63% non-Hispanic White, according to a 2021 Census Bureau survey. About a quarter of the households were living on less than $35,000 a year, and another quarter had income exceeding $100,000, the survey estimated.

It’s a crowded primary, with a dozen names on the ballot in a district so dominated by the Democratic Party that the primary is the key contest in choosing a successor to Cicilline. Several of the candidates — including Matos, Amo, and state Sen. Sandra Cano — have the chance to be ground-breakers as the first person of color or female Democrat to represent the state in Congress. Kate Ackley gives the full election day preview.


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To contact the reporter on this story: Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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