November to Remember: Rhode Island special election expected to help House Democrats

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Left: Rhode Island Republican nominee Gerry Leonard <br/>Right: Rhode Island Democratic nominee Gabriel Amo<br/><br/>Leonard and Amo will face off in a general election for a Rhode Island House seat vacated by Rep. David Cicilline earlier this year.

November to Remember: Rhode Island special election expected to help House Democrats

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The 2023 elections may not have the fireworks of 2024, but there is still plenty up for grabs. In this “off-year,” most of which takes place on Nov. 7, Virginia will be keenly watched, particularly by followers of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and whether he can springboard Republican success into national aspirations. Meanwhile, the governor’s mansion is up for grabs in Kentucky and Mississippi. New Jersey’s Republicans believe they have a real shot at turning the state red in legislative elections, while there are also fierce mayoral and district attorney battles throughout the United States. Voters will also decide several fascinating referendums, particularly in Ohio, Maine, and Texas. This Washington Examiner series, November to Remember, will dive into all of these and more over the following two weeks. Part 16 will deal with Rhode Island’s special election to replace Rep. David Cicilline, who retired earlier this year.

A special election for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District seat will be held Tuesday to replace longtime Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who retired earlier this year.

The race for the deep blue seat pits Democrat Gabriel Amo, a former White House staffer in the Biden administration, against Republican Gerry Leonard, a Marine veteran and political newcomer.


Amo is the odds-on favorite to win the seat, which is in a D+12 district, according to the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. The most recent polling has Amo with an 11-point lead over Leonard.

Amo advanced out of a crowded 12-way primary in his first-ever bid for elected office.

He is the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants and served under President Joe Biden as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and as special assistant to the president, where he was a liaison to local governments. He also previously served in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as a liaison to governors and state elected officials under former President Barack Obama. He also worked as an aide in the Rhode Island governor’s office.

In the primary, Amo received the endorsement of Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, the Congressional Black Caucus, and former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who held the seat for almost two decades.

“It’s incredibly hard to win a campaign. It’s even harder when you’ve never run a campaign before,” said Rich Luchette, a communications strategist at Precision Strategies who worked for Cicilline for several years. “And so it is really remarkable that in his first campaign — which was for a congressional seat, no less — he ended up winning the primary by a significant margin. Seems like he’s on pace for pretty comfortable when in the general as well.”

Amo has focused his campaign on ending gun violence. In August, he told a local news outlet that, in his eyes, the biggest issue facing the nation is protecting “the freedom to live without the fear of gun violence.”

If elected, he told the outlet, he would “fight to ban assault-style weapons in our country” and “support legislation to build on the progress of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first significant piece of gun safety legislation in over 30 years, to increase funding for research at the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for gun violence prevention.”

Over on the Republican side, Leonard is running on reducing the national debt and growing the economy.

“That starts by enacting pro-growth policies, reducing red tape, and incentivizing small and mid-size businesses,” Leonard told a local news station. “The only way we can begin to climb out of our massive national debt hole is by growing our GDP.”

But the odds of him winning are still slim even though he has embraced more centrist stances and has criticized elements of the Republican Party as extreme. And with the margins in the House already narrow, especially when considering the retirement of Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart, the Republicans will be in a tighter majority.

However, he is running ahead of past Republicans in the district, being down by only 11 points in the polls in a district that voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020.

“He had a Republican primary, so he resisted the urge to take the far-right answer that will play well in the primary, and he skated to victory on primary night,” said Chris Pack, a Republican political consultant at Breakwall Group. “So, basically, between this and taking the extremes out of it and focusing on the issues that are important to voters, it makes a compelling case in a state where, prior to three years ago, nobody would ever think about playing.”

While he’s still far out and is unlikely to win, this race would likely be closer had Amo not been the nominee out of the Democratic primary. Another candidate, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, ran as the progressive candidate in the race, having been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Much credit for Republicans making inroads in Rhode Island goes to Alan Fung, a former Republican candidate for Rhode Island’s 2nd District in 2022, who lost by only 4 points.


Fung ran on centrist policies and even received praise from the then-House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who at the time said he was a “quality opponent” and “not an extremist.”

“I think what the winning formula for any candidate should be regardless of whether or not you’re MAGA, moderate, somewhere in the middle is you just focus on the local issues that matter to your constituents,” Pack said.

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