PROVIDENCE — First lady Jill Biden on Wednesday made an impassioned plea for Rhode Islanders to elect Democrat Seth Magaziner to Congress and to keep Democrat Daniel J. McKee as governor, emphasizing the need to protect abortion rights, Social Security, and Medicare.
Speaking at the Graduate Providence Hotel, Biden recounted the “secrecy, shame, silence, danger, and even death” that women – including a close childhood friend of hers – faced in the 1960s when abortion was illegal. She said she was shocked when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
But if President Biden had “more partners like Seth in Washington,” she said, “we could make sure women across the country can make their own pregnancy decisions. We could protect Social Security and Medicare, our right to vote, and marriage equality. But it is up to us.”
Biden is in Rhode Island 13 days before the Nov. 8 election, as national attention focuses on whether Republican Allan W. Fung will win the Second Congressional District seat that US Representative James R. Langevin is vacating.
A Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll released on Oct. 11 showed Fung, a former Cranston mayor, leading Democratic state treasurer Seth Magaziner, 45 percent to 37 percent.
“(Magaziner) knows Rhode Islanders depend on their Social Security and Medicare, that you need to be able to afford your prescriptions, and that’s exactly what he’s going to fight for in Congress,” Biden said. “He stands up for the right to choose and the protection of our privacy, and he is going to hold big corporations accountable when they put profits over people.”
New England used to send plenty of Republicans to Washington, but now US Senator Susan Collins of Maine is the only Republican from New England in either the House or the Senate. And Rhode Island hasn’t elected a Republican to Congress since Lincoln D. Chafee won the 2000 Senate race against US Representative Robert Weygand.
In the gubernatorial race, the October Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll showed McKee leading Republican health care executive Ashley Kalus, 46 percent to 36 percent, while three independent candidates each received less than 1.5 percent. Fourteen percent of respondents were undecided.
“There’s no ‘us versus them,’ no teams to root for or against. We’re just people – Americans from all walks of life who deserve hope,” Biden said. “Your governor, Governor McKee, understands that. From coaching basketball to running a family business to his public service, Dan has dedicated his life to supporting the families of Rhode Island.”
McKee became governor in March 2021 when former governor Gina M. Raimondo joined President Biden’s Cabinet as US commerce secretary. Though former Boston mayor (now Labor Secretary) Marty Walsh stumped for Magaziner recently, Raimondo has not been deployed to Rhode Island to campaign for him in the Second Congressional District. Fung won the Second Congressional District when he lost to Raimondo in the 2014 governor’s race, but Raimondo won the district when she ran for a second term in 2018.
“(McKee) got shots in the arms during the pandemic,” Jill Biden said. “He is overseeing one of the lowest unemployment rates on record, and he made sure you all had tax relief.”
She said “lives are on the line” and the stakes in this election “feel enormous,” but she said, “They come down to small moments – one ballot cast, one phone call to a neighbor who maybe forgot to vote, one ride offered to a polling place.”
On Wednesday, Biden also appeared at a campaign event for Magaziner at the Santa Maria di Prata Society in Cranston, billed as a “pasta and meatballs supper.”
Earlier in the day, she spoke at Rhode Island College, saying the nation needs more teachers and touting the Biden administration’s work on education.
“Right now, schools across the country need more teachers,” she said. “Since I’ve always thought educators are the best spokespeople for our profession, I thought I’d come here to do just that. So on behalf of the President, myself, students and educators everywhere, I am here to recruit you.”
Biden said she always knew her husband would be a “great education president,” and President Biden is focused on the “three Rs” — recruiting, respecting, retaining our educators.”
“Our president created historic investments to safely reopen our schools,” she said. “He is addressing the mental health and academic needs of our students, and delivering on loan forgiveness for public service.”
Biden was joined by Governor McKee and first lady Susan McKee, who graduated from Rhode Island College and became a teacher in her hometown of Cumberland, where she worked for 25 years.
Before delivering her remarks at Rhode Island College, Biden met with undergraduates in a networking event for students interested in pursuing careers in education, hosted by the college’s Career Development Center and Handshake, a career network for college students and recent alumni.
Biden, who has been a teacher for 38 years and a professor at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009, told students that, after all those years, she still can’t fall asleep the night before the first day of classes.
“I still get butterflies in my stomach,” she said. “Oh my gosh, how am I going to walk into the classroom? What are they going to think? I think first impressions are so very important and you want them to walk out of that first class and say, ‘Oh God, that was great, I’m going to love this class.’ "
Brian Amaral of the Globe staff contributed to this report. This article has been updated with additional reporting from the campaign events.