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Rhode Island Democrats rescind endorsements following backlash

The un-endorsed candidates include a Trump-voting former Republican running against a progressive woman who ousted an old-guard incumbent.

WASHINGTON — The Rhode Island Democratic Party rescinded two endorsements Thursday after facing a backlash that exposed the state's political establishment to rare national scrutiny.

"Over the last four years as chair, I've worked really hard to make sure our Party is more open and transparent and is a place where all Democrats can feel they can have a voice and make a difference," Joseph McNamara, the state party chairman, said in a statement. "I regret that these endorsements are inconsistent with that work and believe the actions we have taken today brings us closer to where we aspire to be."

Facing a progressive insurgency in a state largely run by Democrats who oppose abortion rights and enjoy favorable ratings from the National Rifle Association, the party released a slate of endorsements earlier this week which critics said was aimed at punishing three female state legislators who ousted old-guard members two years ago, along with a fourth women running for an open state Senate seat this year.

In a letter to Rhode Island's secretary of state dated Wednesday, McNamara withdrew the Democratic Party's endorsement of Michael Earnheart, a former Republican who voted for President Donald Trump running against progressive state Rep. Moira Jayne Walsh. The party also withdrew its endorsement of a former state senator with multiple drunken driving arrests, who is vying for the open state Senate seat. Now, the party will not endorse a candidate in either race.

From left, Democratic state Reps. Lauren Carson, Julie Casimiro and Moira Jayne Walsh before a legislative session in Providence, Rhode Island, on Jan. 9.Jennifer McDermott / AP file

However, the party is sticking with two other controversial endorsements against progressive female incumbents in the September Democratic primary.

All four women have challenged what they see as the political machine that runs the state.

The two endorsements that remain standing were chosen by local party committees, which often remain loyal to former incumbents, and the state party says its rules require it to abide by those recommendations.

Walsh, an outspoken critic of the state's political culture, declared victory.

“You guys called, emailed and carrier pigeoned the dem party until they finally caved. I officially have a fair race,” Walsh wrote on Twitter. “To be clear (McNamara) gets no brownie points for the take backsies. I won’t forget what happened here.”

But she urged supporters to donate to her two colleagues still facing party-backed primary challengers, including one of the only black women in the State House.

As a rule, parties almost always support incumbents, which is one reason why the slate of endorsements sparked uproar when it was announced earlier this week, including from elected Democrats in the state.

Endorsed candidates appear first on the ballot with a star next to their name and get free access to the voter database maintained by the party.