PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Ashley Kalus, a businessperson seeking office for the first time, won the Republican primary for Rhode Island governor on Tuesday, defeating a rival who has served time in state prison.
Kalus, who owns a COVID-19 testing company that’s in a dispute with the state over a canceled contract, moved to Rhode Island last year from Illinois and previously worked for former Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Kalus beat back a challenge from fellow Republican Jonathan Riccitelli, who has been arrested dozens of times since 2000 under a different name, with charges ranging from obstructing police officers to assault, The Boston Globe reported.
In another top race in Tuesday’s elections, state Treasurer Seth Magaziner won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in Rhode Island being vacated by longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin. Langevin, a Democrat retiring after two decades representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District, had endorsed Magaziner to replace him. Magaziner will face Republican Allan Fung, a former Cranston mayor, in the November general election.
Voter turnout as the polls closed in Tuesday’s primary election appeared about the same as in 2018, approaching 20% of the 810,000 residents eligible to vote, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Kalus will be an underdog in the November election in the liberal state. Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, who took office in early 2021 after Gov. Gina Raimondo was tapped as U.S. commerce secretary, is vying for his first full term in office and is facing a tough challenge from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.
In the last primaries before the November general election, voters in Rhode Island were choosing nominees for statewide offices, U.S. House, the state Legislature and local positions. New Hampshire and Delaware also held primaries on Tuesday.
The top race in Rhode Island on Tuesday was 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.
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.
On the Republican side, Kalus has focused on criticizing McKee rather than Riccitelli. She criticized McKee over the awarding of a controversial state contract that the FBI is now investigating and over the approval of public financing for a planned soccer stadium in Pawtucket.
The Boston Globe reported Friday that Riccitelli had a long criminal record under the name 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.
Kalus, who bought a home in Newport last year, registered to vote in Rhode Island as a Republican in January and declared her candidacy in March.
Her company, Doctors Test Centers, landed lucrative contracts with the state of Rhode Island to administer coronavirus vaccines and tests during the pandemic. The state health department said it cut ties with the company because it received more than 100 complaints about how testing centers were being run.