RICHMOND, R.I. — A year and 10 months after marching on the US Capitol with a violent mob that sought to overturn the presidential election, one Republican legislator is discovering the cost to his own re-election.
State Rep. Justin K. Price, who represents District 39, had faced calls for his resignation after he crowed about going to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and tweeted conspiracy theories blaming antifascists for the violence.
“Yes I marched to the capitol with 1 million peaceful patriots. Unfortunately ANTIFA/BLM infiltrated our peaceful movement and they got caught in the act,” Price said in a tweet that was later deleted. “Capitol Police let ANTIFA in. I did not enter.”
(Many of those charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection have been identified as ardent Trump supporters, members of white-nationalist organizations, and militant right-wing groups.)
With support from some of his Republican colleagues, who said there was nothing wrong with attending a rally, Price remained in his seat. However, the fund-raising dollars to keep his seat haven’t materialized.
Just a week before Election Day, Price has a little over $1,100 on hand, after spending about $2,900 on campaign expenses, mainly on advertising, on according to recent campaign finance reports. That’s the least amount of campaign funds he’s had the week before an election, even when he ran for the first time in 2014.
The biggest donation Price received was $1,000 from Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus, whose spokesman said had maxed out donations to nearly all the GOP candidates in Rhode Island. Price didn’t receive any money from Republican committees or major endorsements, and didn’t report any contributions last month.
Both of Price’s challengers have raised far more.
Newcomer Sean P. Comella, a Providence police sergeant who is running as an independent, has $3,466, some coming from police unions and police officers.
Democrat Megan Cotter, who came within a little over 300 votes of beating Price in 2020, has $29,462. Cotter is the chairwoman of the Exeter Town Democrats and has the backing of the Working Families Party.
Price, a self-employed carpenter and contractor, is on the House Municipal Government and Housing Committee, the Small Business Committee, the Special Legislation Committee, and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Throughout his time in office, he has sponsored legislation and voted along GOP lines.
During the pandemic, Price was one of a handful of legislators who refused to wear masks at the State House, voted against gun-control legislation this year, and co-sponsored a bill prohibiting abortion when a fetus is “capable of feeling pain,” with exceptions to serious health risk of the mother.
Parents United RI, a right-wing nonprofit, also lists Price as one of the candidates pledging to support legislation that opposes teaching students “any divisive race-based or gender-based theory and any inappropriate and explicit sexual content.”
In 2019, Price was the lone sponsor of a bill to prohibit certain social media companies from censoring users speech. Announcing the bill on Facebook, Price wrote, “Do not let big tech, facebook, twitter... decided [sic] the political narrative. Social media is the modern day town square.”
“Roger Stone has been censored and gagged from defending himself,” Price added, referring to the Republican operative and Trump ally. “You are next make no mistake.”
Two years later, Price left after the opening day of the House session to go to the Trump rally in Washington and joined a march to the Capitol, where a violent mob attempted to stop a joint session of Congress from counting the electoral college votes. At first, Price was defiant, tweeting that the insurrection was “ANTIFA FALSE FLAG.” Days later, after calls from Democrats for his resignation, Price posted on Facebook that he’d gone to participate in a peaceful protest over concerns about “election integrity.”
“I was not involved in the run on the US Capitol, and unequivocally condemn it,” Price wrote on Jan. 12, 2021. “It was illegal, put law enforcement and citizens in harm’s way, and distracted from the real concerns of election integrity.”
Price did not respond to messages Thursday seeking comment about his re-election campaign.
District 39 lies in the rural southwest corner of the state, including the town of Richmond and portions of Hopkinton and Exeter. It’s considered reliably red and Republican, where in 2020, then-President Donald J. Trump got 52 percent of the vote against Joe Biden.
“It’s a conservative district, and I think his constituents like Justin,” said Sue Cienki, chairwoman of the Rhode Island Republican Party. “Yes, he did go down to [the Capitol] Jan. 6, but he left and didn’t participate in the storming of the Capitol. It might have an impact [on his campaign].”
But, Cienki said, the bigger issue is the three-way race.
Cotter had the backing of the progressive Rhode Island Political Cooperative in 2020, and Cienki called the Democrat too progressive for the area.
However, Comella, a conservative, is positioned to siphon votes away from Price, which will give Cotter an advantage.
That’s one reason state Rep. Joseph McNamara, the chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, says he’s “extremely optimistic” about flipping that seat.
“I would think that [Comella] will hurt Justin, and I think the Jan. 6 events hurt Justin. That was an assault on democracy, and people realize that on both sides of the aisle, Democrat and Republican,” McNamara said. “Individuals I know who live in that area were outraged, they didn’t even realize Justin was their state representative. They are very well educated, and they were astounded when they learned of his views.”
And in response, money for Cotter’s campaign has come in from all over Rhode Island. “The state Democratic Party hasn’t been pouring money into the district — the state Democrats who support Megan have,” McNamara said. “And she has been working extremely hard and diligently for months and months, so when you see a candidate working hard, who has a great message, who is articulate, she is the kind of candidate people get excited about. I think she has an excellent opportunity.”