The Congressional Hispanic Caucus campaign arm is throwing its lot behind Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor in an unpredictable 12-way Democratic primary to replace retired Rep. David Cicilline (D).

Bold PAC, the group’s campaign arm, is betting that Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos can come out on top to represent the safe Democratic district.

“Rhode Island is a place where there is a very large, very vibrant Latino community. This district is over 20 percent Hispanic, and so it is absolutely the type of place that deserves representation in Congress from its own community,” said Victoria McGroary, executive director of Bold PAC.

Bold PAC’s official side has endorsed Matos, while its independent expenditure arm, which cannot coordinate with the official side, has spent $400,000 supporting her bid, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

Rhode Island is holding a special election to replace Cicilline in a district that hasn’t had a competitive election since 2010, when he first ran after former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy retired.

The general election is on Nov. 7, and voting in the primaries runs from next Wednesday to Sept. 5.

The seat has been open since June, when Cicilline left Congress to lead the Rhode Island Foundation, a $1.3 billion organization that gave $84 million in grants and $75 million in gifts in 2022.

The prominent Democrat’s departure precipitated a rush to fill the coveted seat.

Of the 12 Democrats vying for it, four have received the most media attention and endorsements.

Matos, former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg, former White House aide Gabe Amo and state Sen. Sandra Cano are seen as the leading contenders, and they’ve split key endorsements from top national groups and prominent Democrats.

Bold PAC’s push to support Matos follows a number of successful 2022 primary bets, sometimes butting heads with other prominent Democratic groups, that netted the Hispanic Caucus nine new seats in those elections.

McGroary said Bold PAC, whose primary mission it is to grow Hispanic Democratic representation in Congress, wants to net its 10th new member for the ongoing 118th Congress.

“We would be enormously, enormously proud of that. It’s literally the work we do on a daily basis. It’s what wakes us up in the morning. It is our bread and butter. And so we hope and are very confident that we will be successful in that,” she said.

Matos, who’s been labeled as the mainstream Democratic candidate to Regunberg’s progressive, calls herself “pragmatic.” 

“I like to get things done. I have strong democratic values. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe in gun safety legislation that keeps our children safe,” she told The Hill.

A podcast debate between the candidates on Thursday strayed from policy issues into two scandals that have marred the primary: an investigation into fraudulent signatures connected to Matos’s nomination and Regunberg’s family connections to a super PAC that supports him.

Several candidates piled on Regunberg, whose progressive platform opposes super PAC spending. He has collected top-flight liberal endorsements, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

“Again, I would gladly call for an end to all super PACs,” Regunberg said at the debate, according to the Providence Journal.

Attack lines against Regunberg orbit around the Progress Rhode Island super PAC, funded primarily by his father-in-law, who works for a global investment firm. 

By law, super PACs and campaigns cannot coordinate with each other, meaning Regunberg would have had no say in Progress Rhode Island’s activities.

As of Thursday, Progress Rhode Island has spent about $100,000 on independent expenditures in support of Regunberg’s bid, according to FEC filings.

“Anyone who looks at Aaron’s record knows he’s spent years working to get money out of politics. In Congress he’ll fight to overturn Citizens United and end outside spending in all campaigns,” Matt DaSilva, a Regunberg campaign spokesperson, told The Hill in an email.

Matos said the debate over the super PAC and Regunberg’s privileged background is in itself problematic for the state.

“It’s entirely just a reminder to the voters of Rhode Island that Rhode Island has not sent a working person, like a traditional working person that doesn’t come from our wealth to Congress, and it’s about time for us to do that,” said Matos.

Matos was also the target of attacks surrounding multiple forged signatures in her nomination papers, which she has attributed to a campaign vendor.

Self-funded candidate Donald Carlson went after Matos over the issue, but said he was not questioning her integrity,

“This is a question of competence,” said Carlson.

In the debate, Cano took the unusual step of defending a rival, comparing Matos’s handling of the signature scandal to Regunberg’s disavowal of super PAC spending.

“I think that Lt. Gov. Matos has said, ‘I don’t think this was good and appropriate.’ But my other colleague hasn’t called out that it was wrong. And I think we need to be truthful with ourselves,” said Cano.

Matos, who was born in the Dominican Republic, lamented that the issue has raised questions over the state’s electoral integrity.

“It really is very hard for me. [I’m] very disappointed because I love the democracy of this country,” she said. 

“As someone that grew up outside of the United States and came here, I have been able to accomplish everything that I have accomplished thanks to the strong democracy that this nation has. Of course I’m very disappointed to see that my name on my campaign has been associated with this, because the last thing I want to do is to create mistrust in the democratic process and for the voters.”