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RI Democrats rescind controversial endorsements

Rhode Island State House (WJAR)

As fireworks hit the evening sky on the Fourth of July, a letter had been sent from Democratic Party Chairman Joe McNamara to the secretary of state, taking back two endorsements and causing a holiday flap.

The party backed newbie Michael Earnheart in the House District 3 race in Providence, despite the candidate's recent support of President Donald Trump. Board of Canvasser information showed Earnheart registered as democrat last December.

The party move seemed odd to some, as District 3 already has a sitting Democrat, Rep. Moira Walsh.

But Walsh has been a vocal critic of her party, including House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. At one point, she alleged that lawmakers were drinking on the job.

On Twitter, Walsh wrote: "You guys called, emailed and carrier pigeoned the dem party until they finally caved. I officially have a fair race. To be clear @RIDemChair gets no brownie points for the take backsies. I won't forget what happened here.”

During a phone interview with NBC 10 News, Walsh shared her feelings about the fallout, which has gained national attention.

“I appreciate that they eventually did the right thing, but there's no doubt in my mind, had we not called them on it, they never would have rescinded the endorsement,” Walsh told NBC 10.

Meanwhile, Earnheart put out a statement to his supporters, saying he didn’t want to be a distraction.

“With this behind me, I will take my case directly to the voters in the Democratic Primary in order to move our state forward in a positive direction,” Earnheart noted.

On the Senate side, Democrats backed candidate Gregory Acciardo, a former state senator who's had brushes with the law and was once convicted of vehicular manslaughter.

Acciardo's primary opponent for the seat that represents East Greenwich, Bridget Valverde, has questioned Acciardo's fitness for the office. He didn’t return a call for comment.

At Democratic Party headquarters in Warwick, McNamara wasn’t available for a comment on the controversial endorsements.

“I think the chairman indicated in hindsight that was the wrong thing to do. That's my fault as executive director. But we're taking the right actions to fix it and we fixed it now,” said Kevin Olasanoye.

Olasanoye reiterated an earlier statement and said voters in the district should be making endorsements when no district committee exists.

Wendy Schiller, NBC 10 political analyst and Brown University professor, suggested the local rift in the party is indicative of a rising wing of progressive Democrats.

“How did the Democratic Party, the establishment party with all its resources and everything else, not have done their homework? That's a reason for progressives to say, ‘Hey, put us in. Kick those guys out,” said Schiller.

But the Democrats’ move doesn't mean everything has been smoothed over.

“I forgive but I do not forget and I will not soon forget what the party, what the party did,” Walsh said.

(NBC 10’s Brian Crandall contributed to this report.)

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