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Candidates respond to criticism during 2nd Congressional District debate

Democratic front-runner Seth Magaziner did not receive a lot of direct fire from his rivals during the WPRI-Channel 12 event

Four Democrats running for the 2nd Congressional District seat take part in a WPRI-Channel 12 debate on Tuesday night, from left to right, Joy Fox, Seth Magaziner, Sarah E. Morgenthau, and David A. Segal.Olivia Capraro/WPRI-TV

PROVIDENCE — Four Democrats vying for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District seat squared off in a televised debate on Tuesday night, responding to criticism that has been leveled at them during the campaign.

But the front-runner, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, received surprisingly little direct criticism from his rivals in the Sept. 13 primary — Joy Fox, Sarah E. Morgenthau, and David A. Segal.

Magaziner was asked about a new Fox ad that compares him to a frog leaping from one lily pad to another — from the governor’s race to the 2nd Congressional District race. “He’s looking for a job, not looking out for you,” the ad says.


Magaziner rejected the suggestion that he is an opportunist, saying, “I spent the last eight years working in every community across the 2nd Congressional District with people to solve problems.”

For example, he said he advocated with nurses in Burrillville to keep the Zambarano unit of the state’s Eleanor Slater Hospital open, worked on a school construction program that included elementary schools in Johnston and Cranston, and worked on flood mitigation and rising sea levels in Westerly.

“So I can be an effective member of Congress for this district because more than any other candidate in either party in this race I have deep time in every community across District 2 working with people to solve problems,” Magaziner said.

Fox, who served as an aide to outgoing US Representative James R. Langevin and former Governor Gina M. Raimondo, was asked why voters should support her when Langevin, her former boss, is backing Magaziner.

“Because I have deep roots in this district that give me a deep understanding of the challenges we all face,” Fox said. “It is no secret that one of the bigger political issues in the general election here is where we all live, and I take that right off the table.”


The winner of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary will face Republican Allan W. Fung, the former mayor of Cranston, in the general election. “I would put my hometown girl up against Allan Fung’s hometown boy all day long,” she said.

Fox also noted that she worked for Raimondo, who beat Fung in the 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial elections. “I am the only one up here who has been part of a team that has beaten Allan Fung twice,” she said. “I know we can do it again, and I’m pretty sure he does, too.”

Morgenthau, who served in the Biden and Obama administrations, has argued it is time for Rhode Island to elect a Democratic woman to Congress for the first time — especially now that the US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.

WPRI-Channel 12 reporter Ted Nesi, who moderated the debate along with Channel 12 investigative reporter Tim White, noted that former Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Myrth York agree — but say that woman should be Fox, not Morgenthau. Nesi asked which prominent elected Democratic woman in Rhode Island, past or present, is supporting Morgenthau.

Morgenthau responded by naming Kate Coyne-McCoy, who stepped down in June as executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party and is now chairing Morgenthau’s campaign.

Morgenthau did not name an elected Democratic woman in Rhode Island, but she said, “I have been going from community to community and meeting the voters who are excited about having a fresh perspective, not a career politician — somebody who can go to Washington and get things done because she has the experience and a proven track record of getting things done.”


She noted she has served two presidents and worked at Homeland Security, working on cybersecurity and counter-terrorism, and natural disasters. She noted she served as deputy assistant secretary for the National Travel and Tourism Office — a key part of Rhode Island’s economy.

Segal, a former state representative and a member of the Providence City Council, was asked what he would say to Democrats who doubt the party can hold onto the 2nd Congressional District seat with him as a nominee. Nesi noted the district is seen as trending conservative and Segal was seen as one of the more progressive members of the state legislature.

“I am very proud of having a long record of standing up for progressive values and looking for opportunities to work with people who might not agree with me on every single issue,” Segal said.

For example, he said he served as a legislator during the financial crisis and worked with colleagues from across the political spectrum to succeed in blunting cuts, saving cities and towns tens of millions of dollars throughout state.

And at the national level, he said he has been a leader on issues such as reviving the anti-monopoly movement, “where there is left and right cross-partisan alignment,” he said. “We have been able to make progress by ensuring that the regulators in place are actually willing to contest the power of the corporations who have too much control over our economy and too much control over our government. And voters across the political spectrum agree with me on that issue.”


Two other candidates – Omar Bah, founder of the Refugee Dream Center, and former state Representative Spencer Dickinson – were not allowed to take part in the Channel 12 debate because they didn’t meet Nexstar TV criteria, which require raising at least $50,000 in campaign cash and receiving at least 5 percent in a independent poll.

Bah issued a statement saying, in part, that his exclusion “highlights the struggles faced by thousands of every day Rhode Islanders who are being — and have historically been — shut out of the political process by the system.”

Polls have shown Magaziner leading the Democratic field.

A Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll in June showed him doing better than the other Democrats but still losing to Fung, who had to 44.9 percent to Magaziner’s 38.5 percent. For the Democratic primary contest, the Globe/Suffolk University poll put Magaziner at 30 percent, followed by Segal at 8 percent, Fox at 8 percent, Morgenthau at 3 percent, and Bah at 3 percent. And a WPRI/Roger Williams University poll in August showed Magaziner leading the Democratic race with 37 percent, ahead of Morgenthau at 8 percent, Segal at 8 percent, Fox at 4 percent, and Bah at 3 percent.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.