Two special election primaries were held Tuesday night, each producing heavy favorites for their respective special general elections in November.
Turning first to Rhode Island, where Rep. David Cicilline (D) resigned in June to head a non-profit organization, former Biden and Obama Administration official Gabe Amo clinched the crowded Democratic primary with a 32-25-14% victory over former state Representative Aaron Regunberg, who Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) endorsed, and state Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Pawtucket). The remaining nine candidates, including Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, failed to even reach the 10% threshold.
Mr. Amo, will be a lock to defeat the Republican winner, military veteran Gerry Leonard, Jr., in the November 7th special general election and upon election will be the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress.
Trailing in published polls two weeks before the election vote but appearing to have momentum, Mr. Amo topped the polling leader, Mr. Regunberg, in all three voting phases: election day in-person, early in-person, and mail balloting.
The result was particularly bitter for Lt. Gov. Matos. She began the race as the favorite, considering she is a statewide official. A problem with her petition signatures that led to the State Board of Elections’ members reversing themselves several times made it difficult for her campaign to get untracked. This helped give Mr. Amo the opening he needed to build a winning coalition.
Turnout was low, just over 38,000 Democratic voters, while Republicans recorded only one-tenth of that number. Approximately 67% of the ballots were cast in person on Election Day. Rhode Island’s 1st District is heavily Democratic. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates the seat D+32. President Joe Biden carried this CD by a 64-35% margin.
In Utah’s 2nd District where Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Farmington) will resign his seat on September 15th due to family considerations, polling suggested that former state Representative Becky Edwards had a significant lead in a three-way contest, and early vote counting seemed to confirm this prediction.
As counting progressed, however, Republican district convention winner Celeste Maloy chipped away at Ms. Edwards’ metro area lead once the rural counties tallies began mounting. She then won a tight, but still unofficial, Republican primary special election. In third place, also relatively close, is former Republican National Committeeman Bruce Hough.
Ms. Edwards is a “never Trumper,” having admitted to voting for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. She challenged Rep. Mike Lee in the 2022 Republican primary, attacking him as being too conservative, but lost 62-30%. Her political strength was in the district’s two largest counties, Davis and Salt Lake. In the end, her coalition fell just shy, as she has apparently lost to Ms. Maloy, 38-36%, an unofficial margin of 1,417 votes from just over 70,000 Republican primary ballots cast. Mr. Hough, in third place, attracted 26% support.
Assuming this election is certified, and 1,400+ votes is likely enough to withstand a recount should Ms. Edwards move to have one conducted, Ms. Maloy will advance to the special general election where she will face state Sen. Kathleen Riebe (D-Cottonwood Heights). Ms. Riebe was unopposed in last night’s Democratic primary.
Now, the partisans will turn their attention to the special general election scheduled for November 21st. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates the UT-2 seat as R+23, and Donald Trump defeated President Biden here, 57-39%.
Had Ms. Edwards won the GOP primary, Sen. Riebe might have had a chance to score an upset. It would have been plausible to believe that a large number of conservatives could have bolted from Ms. Edwards and simply not have turned out in the expected numbers, thus allowing Riebe to snatch a close victory. There should be no such problem with Ms. Maloy as the candidate, however.
In November, it is likely that both parties will each hold their vacant seat, Mr. Amo for the Rhode Island Democrats, and Ms. Maloy for the Utah Republicans. Once these two elections are held, the House will return to its full complement of 435 members.
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