Gabe Amo, a former White House aide during the Obama and Biden administrations, defeated a crowded Democratic field in a special primary election for Rhode Island’s 1st U.S. Congressional District Tuesday night.
With 90% of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amo led at 32.5% of the vote, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12 trailed in second with 24.9% of the vote. State Sen. Sandra Cano (D - Pawtucket) was in a distant third at 13.9%.
Almost 40,000 people — nearly 12% of registered voters — voted in the district, which covers the eastern part of the state from Woonsocket to Newport, excluding much of western Providence.
“I don’t have a lot of words,” Amo said in a speech after the race was called. “It is not lost on me that I stand on the shoulders of giants, of so many who paved the road before me.”
“I ran for Congress because I believe Rhode Islanders deserve someone who can be effective from day one to address some of the critical needs of this country,” he added
The Congressional seat opened up after longtime Rep. David Cicilline ’83 announced in February he would vacate his congressional seat in order to lead the Rhode Island Foundation as president and CEO. Cicilline departed Congress in June.
Amo, raised in Pawtucket and the child of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants, will now face former U.S. Marine Corps officer Gerry Leonard Jr., a Republican, in the general special election Nov. 7. The 1st District’s demographics make Amo a heavy favorite in that race — registered Democrats in the district outnumber registered Republicans more than three to one.
If Amo wins again in November, he would be the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress. Tuesday’s primary had the most diverse field of candidates in the state’s history, according to The Boston Globe.
The result of the primary is also a win for the moderate wing of the Democratic party. Amo fended off the more progressive Regunberg, who was endorsed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). Amo’s endorsements included former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represented the 1st District from 1995 to 2011, and Ron Klain, President Joe Biden’s previous White House chief of staff.
The race suffered from a lack of independent polling, making it difficult to discern potential front-runners. An internal poll from Amo’s campaign released late August put Regunberg in the lead at 27.9% of the vote with Amo in second at 19.1%, but some questioned its methodology.
Amo emphasized his national political experience throughout the campaign. During the Obama administration, Amo worked in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. He was also appointed by then-Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as director of public engagement and community affairs. Under Biden, Amo returned to the White House as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Special Assistant to the President.
James Fennessy, part of a late afternoon post-work trickle of voters at the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club, said he voted for Amo because of his “secure” background. He said he worried that more progressive candidates wouldn’t be effective in office.
“I didn’t have any one priority. I just want somebody who’s gonna get something done,” Fennessy said. “You have to be in the middle somewhere.”
Jacob Smollen is a Metro editor covering city and state politics and co-editor of the Bruno Brief. He is a junior from Philadelphia studying International and Public Affairs.