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Gabe Amo and Gerry Leonard spar in back-to-back CD1 debates

Tyler Jackman

Managing Editor

In a pair of debates on Thursday and Friday night, the two candidates fighting to claim former Rep. David Cicilline’s congressional seat went toe-to-toe on issues like the Israel-Hamas war, “Bidenomics,” immigration and climate policy. Democratic candidate Gabe Amo and Republican candidate Gerry Leonard met at Rhode Island College on Thursday and the WPRI-TV newsroom Friday in a succession of televised debates before the special election for Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district, which covers both Bristol and Newport County as well as much of Providence County.

Image via Courtesy of James Bartone/WPRI-TV CBS 12

The pair of debates struck a more cordial tone than many, with the candidates more willing to trade policy than barbs. On the war in the Gaza Strip, the candidates struck similar tones of steadfast support with Israel while adhering to their respective party platforms. Amo, a former aide for Gov. Raimondo and President Biden, agreed with Biden’s calls for a “humanitarian pause” to rescue Israeli hostages while expressing commitment to Israel. Leonard, a former U.S. marine, referenced his military history in regards to his opposition to a ceasefire and his support for the House Republican’s $14 billion Israel aid bill, which cuts funding for the IRS.

On immigration, Amo refused to lay blame for a migrant surge on the Biden administration, levying responsibility on a lack of congressional action. “We need to have political will in Congress, and it has to be bipartisan. Republicans need to come to the table,” Amo said. Leonard agreed with congressional action in reinforcing the border, but laid blame on the Biden administration’s inaction, saying, “We’ve got an open door policy that came to place when his former boss came to office.”

Social issues, like abortion and gun action, proved to be more divisive between the two. In the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned, Leonard refused to support a national ban but supported a state’s decision to ban abortion, stating “It’s already been codified in Rhode Island law. I’m going to D.C. to protect Rhode Island values and Rhode Island laws.” Amo refused to support any restrictions on abortion, criticizing House Republicans for helping facilitate the end of Roe v. Wade, saying that there is no lawmaker “who should be in the room with a woman and her doctor during the most difficult decisions, full stop.”

In the aftermath of the shootings in Lewiston, Maine, the candidates struck far different tones than on any other issue. Debating the renewed calls for banning assault weapons, Leonard refused to support any legislation restricting gun rights, instead calling for funding towards law enforcement and combating the “mental health crisis.” Amo promised to not only support but sponsor an assault weapons ban, saying that families having to say goodbye to their loved ones due to assault weapons makes this “not a both sides issue.”

Pitching their respective candidacies, Leonard stressed that he is an “independent thinker” and promised to “wage a war on extremism and bring back common sense to Washington D.C.,” vowing to put principals above politics. Amo stressed his values, working class roots and connections to RI, saying that the state cannot afford to send a politician “to join the caucus of chaos in Washington.”

The special election for RI’s 1st congressional district will take place on Nov. 7, and RI voters can register to vote and view their voter records here.


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