September 5, 2023
Written by Ethan Mort
Today, two states on opposite sides of the country will host special Congressional primaries. Voters in UT-02, and RI-01 will choose a candidate to become their party’s nominee to advance to the special general. Both special primary elections are not expected to be competitive come November as both seats were won by 25+ point margins last year. Due to this, neither election has attracted any spending from the party trying to flip the seat. Instead, nearly all spending towards these elections are from the Democrats in Rhode Island, and Republicans in Utah. AdImpact has tracked $3.4M spent in the RI CD-01 special primary between 14 advertisers, and $563K spent in the UT CD-02 special primary from five advertisers.
RI CD-01 Special Primary
Rep. David Cicilline (D) retired after serving as the RI-01 representative for 12 years. Cicilline announced his retirement on February 21st of this year. Three weeks later, Rhode Island’s Lt. Governor, Sabina Matos, announced her campaign to run in the special primary, the first major Democrat to do so. Eventually, 20 other Democrats would announce their campaign for the special primary election. Out of those candidates, Sabina Matos saw the most ad support, with $1.3M spent to support her candidacy. Four Democratic groups have spent in support of Matos: CHC Bold PAC ($413K), Women Vote! ($338K), Elect Democratic Women ($145K), and Building a Strong Rhode Island ($12K). Former Rhode Island State Representative Aaron Regunberg has seen $673K in ad support, the second highest. Regunberg has seen support from Democratic issue group Working Families Party ($260K). The highest spending single advertiser in the race, Don Carlson ($625K), dropped out of the race amid allegations on August 27th, and endorsed Sabina Matos. Carlson will still appear on the ballot.
Abortion, gun control, and Donald Trump are the most mentioned issues in the ads for this election. Ads mentioning abortion make up more than half of the ads supporting Matos. These ads highlight her role in advocating for stronger protections for abortion rights as Lt. Governor. Carlson was the only advertiser in this election to mention Trump. The former President and his supporters were mentioned in a Carlson ad about gun control and in an ad about his background. Alternatively, President Biden was mentioned by two advertisers in this election. Across two different ads, former Special Assistant to President Biden, Gabe Amo, mentioned his experience working in the Obama and Biden administrations and how the two Presidents “trusted” him. Democratic group Committee for a Better Rhode Island released an ad attacking Regunberg, claiming he opposed President Biden and other Democrats, stating he would oppose raising the debt limit if he were elected to Congress. Regunberg has styled his ad messaging campaign differently from the other candidates, focusing his ads around healthcare, taking on corporate interests, and touting his endorsement from Bernie Sanders. Independent polls for this election have been scarce, but an internal poll from the Amo campaign found that Regunberg has a healthy lead at 28% with Amo in second with 19%, and Matos and Cano tied for third at 11% each.
UT CD-02 Special Primary
On the other side of the country, the Beehive State will also host a competitive primary. In the UT -02 special primary, it is Republicans who are spending heavily. After serving in Congress for 10 years, incumbent Representative Chris Stewart (R), announced his retirement from Congress on May 31st of this year. Three Republicans have qualified to appear on the primary ballot. Former counsel to Stewart, Celeste Maloy qualified by winning the Republican convention for the district. Former Utah House rep Becky Edwards and former chairman of the Utah Republican Party, Bruce Hough, have both collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Out of those three candidates, Edwards has the most ad support at $350K. Only one issue group has spent in this primary. To Form a More Perfect Union has spent $34K on radio ads attacking Maloy.
Only three different ads aired on television for this election, one for each candidate. Celeste Maloy’s ad focuses on her background and how Stewart endorsed her. Hough's ad focuses on his education funding plan to decentralize the Department of Education. Becky Edwards' ad mentions how she will stand up to China, will work to end inflation, and supports term limits for Congress. Frequently mentioned national issues such as abortion, guns, Trump, and Biden have not appeared In this election’s television ads. According to a recent poll, Edwards leads with 32%. Hough received 11% and Maloy received 9%, leaving 47% of voters within the district undecided. Edwards leads in the Republican primary despite going on record as voting for Biden in 2020 and being against the overturning of Roe v Wade.
Interested in learning about Republican anti-Trump ad spending? Read our blog here: