Former White House aide Gabe Amo came out on top in a crowded Democratic primary for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District special election Tuesday, beating out a slew of fellow candidates to move on to the November general election in the heavily Democratic state.
Amo hopes to succeed former Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, who stepped down earlier this summer to become the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.
Amo, who grew up in Pawtucket the son of Ghanaian and Liberian immigrants, would be the first Black candidate to be elected to the U.S. House from Rhode Island. No person of color has represented the state in Congress.
Gerry Leonard, a U.S. Marine veteran and political newcomer, defeated fellow Republican candidate Terri Flynn, a former town council member, to win the GOP primary Tuesday.
“We’re excited here,” Leonard told The Associated Press after winning.
“I’m looking forward with great anticipation of getting out and continuing to move around District 1 and meet Rhode Islanders. Tell them my message. Tell them my story and tell them what I intend to do for the state,” he said. “We need to start sending leaders to Washington, D.C. that put principles before politics and service before self. That message will resonate.”
Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who had hoped to become the first Latina elected to Congress from the state, congratulated Amo.
“While I was hoping for a different outcome, tonight’s results show that Rhode Islanders are ready for more diverse representation in Congress for the first time. We can all celebrate and take pride in this historic milestone for our state,” she said in a statement.
If elected, Amo said he would fight to ban assault-style weapons, support funding for research into gun violence prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and implement universal background checks.
Amo also said he would fight against what he described as extremist Republican attempts to slash funding for Social Security and Medicare, work to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, and fight for more legislation at the federal level to combat climate change.
Amo also won the endorsement of former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who represented the district from 1995 to 2011.
The prospect of an open seat in Congress initially drew the attention of dozens of possible candidates, particularly among Democrats.
Other Democrats on the ballot included former secretary of state candidate Stephanie Beaute, former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Walter Berbrick, Pawtucket state Sen. Sandra Cano, state Rep. Stephen Casey, and Spencer Dickinson.
The Democratic field of candidates also included Providence City Council member John Goncalves, state Democratic state senator Ana Quezada, former two-term state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, and Allen Waters, who challenged Ciciline in the general election as a Republican last year.
Regunberg had tried to position himself as the most progressive of the front-runners, winning the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and actress Jane Fonda.
Leonard has said he believes that Americans know how to live their lives better than government bureaucrats and professional politicians do.
The Republican has criticized “Bidenomics,” saying Democratic President Biden’s economic plan hasn’t helped ordinary citizens. He also said he favors a more limited government and supports U.S. efforts to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia, but said the U.S. also needs clear goals and an exit strategy.
Leonard also said he believes abortion should remain a state issue.
Leonard is a resident of Jamestown and a graduate of the Naval War College. He served for three decades in the Marines.
He faces a significant challenge in the general election in a state that has traditionally favored Democratic candidates. He said he is a strong proponent of term limits.
If elected, Leonard would become the first Republican to represent the 1st Congressional District since former Congressman Ron Machtley, who served from 1989 to 1995.
Amo will square off against Leonard in the Nov. 7 general election.