PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Polls have closed in Rhode Island, where Gov. Dan McKee is facing a tough challenge from the secretary of state in Tuesday’s Democratic primary as he seeks his first full term in office after taking over when two-term Gov. Gina Raimondo was tapped as U.S. commerce secretary.
McKee is trying to avoid becoming the first sitting governor to lose a primary since 2018, when Gov. Jeff Colyer in Kansas narrowly lost the Republican nomination to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who went on to lose the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly, the state’s current governor. Like McKee, Colyer took over when the sitting governor resigned for another job.
Voter turnout as the polls closed in Tuesday’s primary election appeared about the same as 2018, approaching 20% of the 810,000 residents eligible to vote, according to the secretary of state’s office.
McKee is touting his leadership in navigating the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic after he was sworn in as governor in March 2021. His leading Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who would be the first Latina governor in New England if elected, says the state needs better leadership on issues like housing, education and climate change.
In the last primaries before the November general election, voters in Rhode Island are choosing nominees for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, U.S. House, the state Legislature and local offices. New Hampshire and Delaware are also holding primaries on Tuesday.
With the retirement of longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin, the state's 2nd Congressional District is open for the first time in 30 years. Six Democrats are vying for the party's nomination, while Republicans are eyeing the seat as a possible pickup opportunity in November.
But the top race in Rhode Island on Tuesday is the Democratic gubernatorial primary, whose winner will be favored to win in November in the liberal state.
Besides McKee and Gorbea, three other Democrats are also seeking the nomination: former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes, who wants to use her business background to lead the state as it recovers from the pandemic; former Rhode Island Secretary of State and progressive candidate Matt Brown; and community activist Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz.
On the Republican side, businessperson Ashley Kalus is competing against Jonathan Riccitelli, who made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2018 as an independent. Kalus, a political newcomer who moved to Rhode Island last year from Illinois, said she's ready to “take on whichever insider or career politician emerges from the Democratic primary.”
The Boston Globe reported Friday that Riccitelli had been arrested dozens of times since 2000 under a different name. The Globe said the criminal charges ranged from obstructing police officers to assault and were lodged against someone named Jonathan Tefft, according to court records.
Riccitelli told the newspaper he couldn’t remember how many times he had been arrested and denied that all of the charges were his, but acknowledged his mother was married to someone whose last name was Tefft and people may have called him Jonathan Tefft at some point. The Department of Corrections confirmed Monday that a person named Jonathan Tefft, who goes by Jonathan J. Tefft-Riccitelli, had been in and out of state prison from 2000 to 2011.
In the state's 2nd Congressional District, the state’s treasurer, Seth Magaziner, is considered the front-runner and has been endorsed by Langevin, who was the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress. Magaziner had been running for governor but switched races after Langevin’s announcement to try to keep the seat in Democratic control.
National Republican leaders aim to flip the seat into their control for the first time since 1991, and they’re hoping a former Cranston mayor, Allan Fung, can do it. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy visited Rhode Island in August to raise money for Fung.
Two Republican rivals dropped out of the primary contest to clear the path for Fung. His campaign spokesperson Steven Paiva said Fung is ready to lead “Rhode Island’s rejection of the wealthy elites’ out-of-touch ideology,” and that Tuesday’s Democratic winner will prove to be a “rubber stamp” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s agenda.
Magaziner faces a crowded Democratic field with Joy Fox, a former top aide to Langevin; former Biden administration official Sarah Morgenthau; Omar Bah, executive director of The Refugee Dream Center in Providence; and former state lawmakers David Segal and Spencer Dickinson.
Magaziner said his campaign is about delivering results on the issues that matter most, such as protecting Social Security and Medicare, defending abortion rights, lowering the cost of health care, and “turning the page on Trumpism.” He said he’s asking residents to get out to vote Tuesday and in November because the stakes are high.
Morgenthau is calling for change since Rhode Island has never elected a Democratic woman to Congress, though voters did elect a Republican woman in 1980. Morgenthau said now more than ever, voters need to elect women who will protect abortion rights.
In the 1st Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. David Cicilline will face Republican Allen Waters in November. Both are unopposed Tuesday. Cicilline is seeking his seventh term.
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