Rhode Island State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz (R-North Smithfield) came to Cranston, the home community of her two Republican rivals in the 2nd Congressional District, to formally launch her campaign Wednesday.

De la Cruz described herself as a proud daughter of Portuguese immigrants and working mom who relates to the concerns of everyday people.

“I’m running because after the 2020 election, Joe Biden promised us moderation and unity,” she said during a campaign event attended by her family and a group of supporters at 39 West Restaurant and Lounge. “But instead we got economic chaos and increasing division.”

A two-term state senator, de la Cruz has a more conservative profile than former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is considered to have an edge in the primary, due to his base in the Cranston-Warwick area. Former state Representative Bob Lancia challenged outgoing U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin in 2020, a Democrat, and he is running again.

De la Cruz said she is running “because as a state senator, every single day my inbox is filled with messages from Rhode Islanders who are struggling to feed their families, to put gas in their vehicles, to pay their bills and make ends meet. Rhode Islanders need relief now, Rhode Islanders need change now.”

“I believe government has a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable, but I also know the government needs to live within its means,” she said. “I believe we need to support our police instead of defunding them, I believe that every child deserves an excellent education, and I believe that we can beat inflation and lower the price of gas with common sense public policies like expanding domestic energy production and stopping wasteful spending.”

De la Cruz was among a group of Republicans who called in February for eliminating the state gas tax of about 34 cents a gallon for the rest of the year. Some Democrats blame the high cost of gas on price-gouging by oil companies, and they point to a disparity between falling per-barrel prices and the cost at the pump.

De la Cruz does not currently reside in the 2nd Congressional District, though that is not a legal barrier to running. Without specifying when, her campaign said she plans to move into the district, and that most of her state Senate constituents are residents of the district in which she is running.

The North Smithfield senator said she was politicized after the birth of her children.

“For the first time, I saw how government affects every part of a family's life,” she said. “When I researched the school my son was going to attend, I realized it was failing and wouldn’t prepare him for success. And like many families, we couldn’t afford private school. Still, I figured there must be some way for him to go to a better school — wasn’t that what all my taxes were for? Frustrated by my lack of options, I homeschooled my son until we could move to a district that offered a better education.”

The candidate was introduced by Alfred Passarelli, best known for filing last-minute campaign papers for Buddy Cianci’s improbable comeback as mayor of Providence in 1990. Passarelli has supported other candidates, including former Gov. Don Carcieri, and he said de la Cruz reminds him of Carcieri.

De la Cruz pointed to her opposition to the closing of Zambarano Hospital, a move backed by former Gov. Gina Raimondo, as one of her signature issues in the Senate.

De la Cruz took a brief number of questions from reporters.

Asked if she will seek Donald Trump, de la Cruz said she wants the support of voters and will not seek endorsements.

Asked about Fung’s self-description as an effective mayor of Cranston, she said, “I think that the people of District 2 will decide who is best qualified for the position, but as a state senator, I’ve represented District 23 well and my constituency have been excited to support me as I run for Congress.”

At least seven Democrats are running for the seat in Congress being vacated after more than 20 years by Langevin.

Democrats already seek to tie the Republican nominee, however moderate, to the national Republican party. One of the Democrats running for the seat, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, continued that process in a statement he released after de la Cruz’s announcement, saying, “The first vote Senator de la Cruz will take is to turn over control of Congress to extremist Republicans like Kevin McCarthy who will repeal the Affordable Care Act, privatize social security, and end the January 6 commission, paving the way for the return of Donald Trump.”

Fung has thus far skipped a formal campaign launch after announcing his campaign via news release. But when asked today if he will stage a formal launch, Fung said, “I’m looking forward to a great campaign season that is being built upon extremely strong early fundraising numbers and fantastic grassroots enthusiasm. We’ll be having a formal kickoff next month, and have much more to say then.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. Follow him on Twitter @IanDon.