PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Former White House aide Gabe Amo has won the Democratic primary in Rhode Island’s First Congressional District, according to the Associated Press, setting him up to potentially become the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress.
With 100 percent of polling places reporting, Amo led an 11-candidate Democratic field with 32.5 percent of the vote, leading former state representative J. Aaron Regunberg with 24.9 percent, state Senator Sandra C. Cano with 13.8 percent, and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos with 8 percent, according to the state Board of Elections.
“I am so, so excited to be representing the people who made me who I am, in this next part of the journey,” Amo said. “We still have November to go.”
At his primary night headquarters at The Guild in Pawtucket, Amo told reporters that he was overwhelmed. “But I am so energized... because we have so much work to do for Rhode Islanders,” he said. “I know this is a momentous occasion being the Democratic nominee for Congress here in the First Congressional District.”
Amo will face the Republican nominee, Gerry W. Leonard Jr., on Nov. 7.
“The election of Gabe Amo to Congress stands as a watershed moment in Rhode Island’s history, serving as an enduring source of inspiration for countless individuals who share his passion for catalyzing positive change within their communities,” the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee said in a statement that lauded Amo as “the state’s inaugural Democratic nominee of color.”
“Gabe’s remarkable journey from Pawtucket to the revered chambers of the United States Congress embodies the quintessential American dream — marking a profound testament to relentless perseverance and unwavering dedication,” the statement read.
Brett Broesder, the founding executive director of the Democrats Serve PAC that backed Amo, issued a statement saying, “His story is one that all Rhode Islanders can be proud of, and Democrats Serve is honored to have supported the best candidate in this race to the fullest extent possible. Like his many supporters, we cannot wait to see what Gabe does next!”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene issued a statement congratulating Amo, saying, “After years in the White House under two presidents and in the Rhode Island governor’s office, Gabe has proven himself a capable and dedicated leader.” She said, “With Gabe on the ticket, Republican extremists don’t stand a chance at flipping this seat in November, and I look forward to working alongside him on behalf of Rhode Islanders and the American people.”
US Representative Seth Magaziner, who represents Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District, congratulated Amo, saying, “We need leaders who will focus on strengthening Social Security and Medicare, protecting abortion rights, ending the scourge of gun violence and fighting for the middle class and those working hard to join it. I know that Gabe shares my commitment to fight for the working people of Rhode Island.”
Amo, a Pawtucket native who served in the Obama administration and worked for then-Governor Gina Raimondo before joining the Biden administration, left his job as President Joe Biden’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs earlier this year to run for the open First Congressional District seat.
The Democrat is heavily favored to win the seat in Rhode Island’s more left-leaning congressional district. The winner will replace David Cicilline, who resigned earlier this year to lead the Rhode Island Foundation.
While he was well-known in political circles, the 35-year-old Amo had little name recognition among voters when he entered the race, never having served in elected office. His campaign was bolstered by more than $600,000 in donations and the support of political action committees in Washington.
Gabe Amo just had to walk away to take a call… from President Biden.— Dan McGowan (@DanMcGowan) September 6, 2023
In a crowded field of Democrats, support for Amo appeared to surge following news of an investigation into the signature collection on nomination papers for Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos’ campaign. An internal poll released by the Amo campaign in August showed him in second place behind Aaron Regunberg, ahead of Matos and state Senator Sandra Cano.
The left-leaning First District comprises roughly the eastern half of Rhode Island, including much of the urban core, East Bay coastal communities and Aquidneck Island.
Speaking to supporters at the Wild Colonial tavern, Regunberg congratulated Amo on his victory and pledged to help him win the general election.
“As tough as tonight might feel, I remain hopeful,” Regunberg said.
He said he would continue the fight against Big Oil in his new job as a senior climate policy advocate at Public Citizen.
Regunberg’s opponents believed him to be the frontrunner, and the progressive Democrat had the support of the party’s biggest left-wing leaders including Bernie Sanders.
“I never knew where we were, we didn’t do internal polling,” Regunberg told the Globe after his concession speech. “Obviously, there was a lot of incoming and we just tried to respond and to stay above the fray and keep talking about the issues that matter.”
Asked if he would ever run for office again, Regunberg said: “This was always going to be my last hurrah.”
Cano, who arrived at the Guild Tuesday night to congratulate Amo, issued a statement saying, “I am so proud to have been a part of the most diverse slate of candidates Rhode Island has ever seen. Diversity is our strength and we should celebrate this milestone. Congratulations to all the candidates for being a part of this great democratic process and inspiring race. And lastly, congratulations to Gabe Amo for being chosen as the nominee. He is on the path to break a glass ceiling as Rhode Island’s first congressperson of color.”
Matos issued a statement saying, “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. I congratulate Mr. Amo for his hard-fought victory in this crowded field. I know that he will represent Rhode Islanders well in Congress. I look forward to working alongside him to win the general election and when he is representing us in Washington.”
This story has been updated.
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