With just three weeks to go until the midterm elections, Democrat Seth Magaziner ’06 and Republican Allan Fung — candidates for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District — clashed in a televised debate Tuesday evening. The debate marked one of the last high-profile opportunities for the candidates to speak directly to Rhode Islanders before voters head to the polls on Nov. 8.
Magaziner currently serves as treasurer for the State of Rhode Island, while Fung served as mayor of Cranston from 2009 to 2021.
In the debate, hosted by WPRI-12 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, Magaziner repeatedly linked Fung to far-right Republicans in Congress, saying that his opponent represented both a direct and indirect threat to democratic norms and abortion rights. Fung, echoing national Republican strategy in recent weeks, highlighted persistent economic problems, including stubbornly high inflation rates, as a case for GOP governance.
In the past several weeks, the race has received national attention as one of a handful of now-competitive House seats once thought to be safely blue. Although Democrats won the last CD2 matchup — which took place in 2020 between Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin and Republican Robert Lancia — by a margin of nearly 17 points, polls now show signs of trouble for Democrats. An Oct. 4 Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll has Fung up eight points, and an Oct. 6 WPRI/Roger Williams University poll shows the Republican with a six-point lead.
The debate’s atmosphere was contentious, with insults thrown on both sides reflecting the competitive nature of the CD2 race and the 2022 midterms in general. Both candidates repeatedly accused the other of spreading lies and misinformation, each attempting to associate the other with political forces they say are harming Rhode Islanders.
Fung repeatedly accused Magaziner of supporting the “failed policies” of President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., which he said are “costing us at the gas pumps (and) at the grocery stores.” He blamed such inflation on the Biden administration’s stimulus packages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current national leadership, he said, is “throwing dollars out into the economy,” exacerbating ongoing inflation.
Magaziner’s debate strategy also revolved around tying his opponent to national leadership. He highlighted that a Fung victory would raise the likelihood of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the current House Minority Leader, becoming Speaker of the House. He suggested this could lead to Social Security and Medicare cuts, national restrictions on abortion, decreased aid to Ukraine and a further erosion of American democracy. Fung wants to put “extremists … in charge of Congress,” Magaziner said.
Each candidate tried to paint their counterpart as out of touch with voters, connected more closely to wealthy Americans than the working class. Fung argued that the Magaziner family is wealthy and influential in Ocean State politics, while Magaziner accused his opponent of being in the pocket of the pharmaceutical, insurance and fossil fuel industries.
The issue of abortion rights after the fall of Roe v. Wade featured prominently in the debate. Magaziner said that Fung’s election would facilitate a national abortion ban. Magaziner argued that Fung “thinks that (the decision) should be up to politicians and judges, whether it’s at the federal level or the state level,” Magaziner said. “It should be up to women.”
Fung, who has said that he supports “states’ rights” on the issue of abortion, repudiated Magaziner’s claims. “I need to … clarify my position on abortion because of the outright lies from these ads that my opponent has been putting out against me. I do not and never said, nor will I ever support, a national abortion ban.”
The debate also included a rapid-fire section where candidates were asked to briefly commit to opposing or supporting federal legislation on issues that could come to a vote in the next two years. Both Fung and Magaziner said they would support marijuana legalization, codification of the right to same-sex marriage and term limits in Congress.
Magaziner said he would support an assault weapons ban: “I don’t think that weapons of war belong in our streets (or) in our schools,” he said. Fung refused to commit to a position on an assault weapons ban, but said that he wants to ensure that “criminals and those with serious mental health issues don’t get access to firearms” without taking away “the rights of law-abiding citizens who are responsible firearm owners.”
The candidates’ closing statements reflected the contentious tone of the debate. “I have (the) courage … to take on the big special interests,” Magaziner said. “Allan Fung has shown that he doesn’t … because they’re funding his campaign.”
“I will fight against the extremists that are trying to overturn our democracy and cut Social Security and Medicare,” Magaziner continued. “He wants to put them in charge of Congress.”
“Magaziner has doubled down on the policies that are driving this cost of living crisis for all Rhode Islanders by supporting President Biden and Speaker Pelosi, (who) have left spending out of control,” Fung said. “Right now, what our country needs is strong leadership … to right this economic ship and to keep our neighbors safe.”