With campaigning taking place over the sleepy summer months — when voters may not be aware that a special election is even happening — turnout will likely be low and it’s difficult to discern who the frontrunners are in these contests.
There has been limited public polling in the Rhode Island race, although internal polls from competing campaigns show a mix of former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, former White House official Gabe Amo and state Sen. Sandra Cano as top contenders among the crowded field. In Utah, a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll found that nearly half of respondents were undecided about the race, although former state Rep. Becky Edwards was pulling ahead of her two competitors, former Stewart aide Celeste Maloy and former state party chair Bruce Hough.
“There’s been no one candidate that you would say, ‘Wow, that person’s electrified everybody in the district,’” Joe Fleming, a Rhode Island political analyst and pollster, said of the RI-01 Democratic primary.
The same goes in Utah. “This thing’s still more than up in the air,” said Carson Jorgensen, a former chair of the Utah Republican Party, adding that he was surprised that the UT-02 contest has been as quiet as it has been.
A mere $500,000 was spent on ads in the Utah race, with Edwards putting over $300,000 in, per ad tracker AdImpact. Edwards, who in part is boosted by her statewide name recognition following her unsuccessful challenge to Republican Sen. Mike Lee last year, also raised the most in the leadup to the primary — although around half of her haul came from a personal loan.
Rhode Island has been a bit more active, with over $3 million spent on ads and notably Democratic outside groups duking it out. That includes more than $1 million from outside groups, with the likes of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC and EMILYs List’s Women Vote! supporting Matos and the Working Families Party boosting Regunberg. Regunberg has the strongest fundraising among the candidates still in the race.
Both races have also had their scandals — ones that could have an impact on the race. Matos, who has the backing of numerous national groups and was initially seen as the frontrunner, has been surrounded by controversy for submitting hundreds of invalid signatures on her nominating papers. Meanwhile, Regunberg has been hit for being boosted by a super PAC run by his father-in-law, after he has criticized the role of money in politics.
And in Utah, the state party, along with Stewart (and kind of Republican Gov. Spencer Cox) have picked Maloy as their candidate of choice. She’s been differentiating herself by touting her rural roots in a district that covers large swaths of rural land in the southern and western part of the state, along with Democratic-leaning Salt Lake City. Opponents unsuccessfully tried to kick her off the ballot after learning that she wasn’t registered to vote as a Republican in Utah when she filed to run for the seat.
Tuesday’s special primary elections — the first of the 118th Congress since the December primaries in Virginia to replace the late Democratic Rep. Don McEachin — may also provide some insight into the broader mood of the parties. Should Regunberg win in Rhode Island, it would be the latest win for progressive power, after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) waded into the race in support of him.
And if Edwards pulls ahead in Utah, she could be a rare success story for a Republican who is outspoken against former President Donald Trump. Edwards, who casts herself as a “commonsense conservative,” has been hit throughout the campaign for voting for President Joe Biden in 2020. (She said recently that she regrets supporting him.)
In Rhode Island, two Republicans are running in the GOP primary. The winner of Utah’s Republican primary will face off against Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Riebe and a handful of third-party candidates.