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In R.I. congressional race, AOC backs Regunberg and Patrick Kennedy backs Amo

The back-to-back big-name endorsements come five days before the Sept. 5 primary in the First Congressional District race

Former US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, left, endorsed Gabe Amo for Rhode Island's First Congressional District seat, and US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Aaron Regunberg.Handouts

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s First Congressional District race saw a pair of back-to-back high-profile endorsements Thursday morning as US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backed J. Aaron Regunberg and former US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy backed Gabe Amo.

Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive New York Democrat, will help Regunberg make his claim to being the progressive choice among 11 Democrats running in the Sept. 5 primary.

AOC’s support comes four days after US Representative Bernie Sanders, a progressive icon from Vermont, spoke at a Regunberg rally in Providence. Also, the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC has endorsed Regunberg, and he has received endorsements from progressive legislators such as US Representatives Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, and Ro Khanna, a California Democrat.


“As a community organizer, climate lawyer, and state legislator, Aaron has been a fierce champion for working people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “He helped increase Rhode Island wages for the first time in 20 years and held Big Oil companies accountable for environmental crimes. Now, he’s running for Congress to pass a $15 minimum wage and to fight for a Green New Deal. I’m proud to support him.”

Regunberg, a former state representative from Providence, also has received endorsements from local progressives such as state Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat, and state Representatives Leonela Felix and Cherie Cruz, Pawtucket Democrats.

“I’m really honored to have the endorsement of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, someone who’s taken on corporate special interests to fight for a fair economy and a government that works for all of us,” Regunberg said. “I look forward to working with her in Congress to build coalitions that can deliver Medicare for All and bold climate action for our communities, and to stand up against Republican attacks on our democracy.”

Georgia Hollister Isman, New England regional director of the Working Families Party, said, “It’s clear why our country’s top progressive champions are coming out for Aaron. He’s the clear progressive choice, and they know he’s the only candidate in this race who will always take on the corporate interests holding people back. These endorsements send a clear signal to anyone who wants a real shot at bringing affordable housing, healthcare and childcare to Rhode Island — with fierce allies like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, Aaron can deliver the types of big investments that actually improve people’s lives.”


Half an hour after the announcement of AOC’s endorsement, the Amo campaign announced that he is being endorsed by Kennedy.

Kennedy, a Democrat who represented Rhode Island’s First Congressional District from 1995 to 2011, provides Amo with a boost from a member of a legendary political family who previously held the seat that Amo is seeking.

Amo’s campaign released a new television ad, “Deliver for Rhode Island,” that features Kennedy.

“My family has had a long tradition of public service, working in government to help people,” Kennedy says in the ad. “And that’s why I’m endorsing Gabe Amo for Congress. Gabe grew up in Pawtucket, and his hard work and passion for public service took him all the way to the White House. He knows how government works. He’s the one who will deliver for Rhode Island. Gabe Amo has the experience that we need now.”

In a news release, Kennedy there are “a number of good candidates” in this First Congressional District race, which includes 11 Democrats running in a Sept. 5 primary.


“But Gabe stands apart as the most experienced, and I know how important it is that Rhode Island is represented by strong leadership in Washington,” he said. “No one is more prepared than Gabe. Gabe’s long career in public service and his deep Rhode Island values equip him to effectively serve Rhode Islanders in Congress.”

Kennedy was an advocate for gun safety legislation and caregivers, and worked to support Rhode Island’s Liberian community while in Congress. Since leaving Congress, he has moved to New Jersey and become a leading advocate for a stronger mental health care system in the United States.

Amo said Kennedy’s endorsement means a lot to him. “Since I was young, I have believed in getting involved. Among my early political experiences was volunteering for one of Congressman Kennedy’s re-election campaigns for the seat I’m running for today,” he said. “So, today’s endorsement is really a full-circle moment.”

He said, “I am humbled to have Congressman Kennedy’s support, and most importantly, trust, to be the type of thoughtful, committed, and responsible representative that Rhode Islanders deserve. I will work to carry on his distinguished legacy in Congress.”

Providence College political science Professor Adam S. Myers said AOC’s endorsement shows Regunberg has “locked up” the support of national progressive groups and leaders who want to ensure the seat is filled by a progressive. “If a reporter from Roll Call or some other national publication jetted into Rhode Island, you would conclude he is the leftie in the race,” he said.


But Myers noted that support among local progressives is not unanimous. For example, he noted state Senator Sandra C. Cano, a Pawtucket Democrat, has support from state Senators Samuel W. Bell and Meghan E. Kallman and state Representatives Edith H. Ajello and Rebecca Kislak, among others. And Senator Ana Quezada, a Providence Democrat, has progressive support.

The Kennedy endorsement of Amo reflects support among the Democratic establishment in Rhode Island, Myers said. He noted that Kennedy also returned to Rhode Island to endorse former CVS executive Helena Buonanno Foulkes in the race for governor last year. She ended up finishing second behind Governor Daniel J. McKee in the Democratic primary.

Myers said the big name endorsements are coming as many voters are just starting to tune into the special election, which will fill the seat the David N. Cicilline vacated to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation. With no independent polling, the outcome of the race is difficult to predict, he said.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.