Jul 21, 2024  |  
 | Remer,MN
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Misty Severi, Breaking News Reporter

NextImg:Rhode Island elections: A look at the Democratic favorite and Republican hoping for an upset

Rhode Island voters have selected former Democratic White House staffer Gabriel Amo and Republican political newcomer Gerry Leonard to compete in the special election to represent them in the United States House of Representatives this November.

The primary elections, which were held Tuesday, introduced both men to the national stage, where they will seek to win a seat left vacant by former Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who retired earlier this year. Amo is favored to win the predominantly blue district. Rhode Island, famously a small state, only has two congressional districts.


Here is a look at who these candidates are.

1. Democratic nominee Gabriel Amo

Gabe Amo smiles at an election results party after his win in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, in Pawtucket, R.I. (David Delpoio/Providence Journal via AP)

Amo, who served in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during two presidential administrations, won a crowded Democratic primary for the open seat.

"I don't have a lot of words," Amo told supporters after his victory. "This primary election showed that Rhode Islanders believe in a state where one of their sons, the son of two West African immigrants from Ghana and Liberia ... [can] receive the love and the investments of a community and go from serving the president of the United States, briefing in the Oval Office, to being the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 1st Congressional District."

Amo first served in the White House under former President Barack Obama as a staffer for the Intergovernmental Affairs Office.

During his first stint in the White House, Amo worked with state leaders and mayors to respond to major challenges in local communities, such as issues with healthcare. He returned to Rhode Island during Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo's tenure as the state's governor from 2015-2021 and worked as her director of public engagement and community affairs.

Amo then moved back to the capital city under President Joe Biden, returning with a promotion as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and special assistant to the president.

If Amo is elected to the House, he would be the first person of color to represent Rhode Island in Congress.

2. Republican nominee Gerry Leonard

In this July 2023 photo provided by the Leonard Campaign, Gerry Leonard, a Republican candidate for U.S. House Rhode Island District 1, poses for a portrait. Primaries will be held Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, for the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline's resignation. (Karen Iacobbo/Leonard Campaign via AP)

Leonard is considered a long-shot candidate for the state's 1st Congressional District and would be the first Republican to represent the district in 30 years. Leonard is a Marine Corps veteran who served in the branch for 30 years.

During his time in the military, Leonard was stationed overseas multiple times and faced combat in Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan as a reconnaissance officer and infantryman, according to his website. He has been awarded the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Combat Action Ribbon. He retired from the Marines as a colonel in 2019.

“I’m looking forward with great anticipation of getting out and continuing to move around District 1 and meet Rhode Islanders," Leonard told the Associated Press after his victory. “[I will] tell them my message, my story, and tell them what I intend to do for the state. We need to start sending leaders to Washington, D.C., that put principles before politics and service before self. That message will resonate.”


A father of four children, Leonard said he understands what other Rhode Island families are going through and believes "Americans know how to live their lives better than government bureaucrats and professional politicians do."

Leonard defeated former councilwoman Terri Flynn for the Republican nomination on Tuesday. He will face Amo in the special election on Nov. 7, 2023.