Cicilline Ahead in Poll: Can Brendan Doherty Make a Comeback?
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
The race to represent the 1st Congressional District has swung 21-percentage points since last February and incumbent Congressman David Cicilline now holds a 44 percent-38 percent lead over Republican challenger Brendan Doherty, according to a poll released Monday by WPRI.
The survey of 250 likely 1st District voters (the margin of error is 6.2 percent) shows Cicilline has strong leads among women, senior citizens and union households, three groups the Congressman has focused in on in recent months. Meanwhile Doherty was ahead slightly among men and holds a 12-point lead with independents. Independent candidate David Vogel has 6.4 percent support in the district.
“There is good news and bad news for Cicilline in this poll,” Duffy said. “Yes, he closed the gap and his job numbers are up. At the same time, he is at 44 percent, which is dangerous for an incumbent. Further, he's losing independents and he's only getting 65 percent of the Democratic vote. Typically, undecided voters don't break for the incumbent.”
Schiller: Surprised the Lead isn’t Bigger
Duffy, who noted that the poll’s sample size was small, said Doherty has room to grow among the 31 percent of voters who said they didn’t have an opinion of him yet, but also said the Republican needs to define himself before Cicilline does. Duffy said she still considers the race a “toss up” with five weeks to go.
Despite Cicilline pulling ahead after trailing Doherty by 15 points earlier this year, nearly half of those polled (48.7 percent) said they had a favorable view of the Republican. Like Duffy, Brown political science professor Wendy Schiller suggested the poll’s margin of error was significant, but she also said she was surprised the Congressman isn’t ahead by more.
“I am surprised it is not a bigger lead in light of how much advertising Cicilline has done over the last few months and the popularity of [President] Obama in Rhode Island combined with the Democratic leaning of the district,” Schiller said. “What this poll shows is that Doherty still has a very decent chance of winning this seat.”
Cicilline’s Strategy Working
The WPRI poll came on the same day Doherty released his first attack ad on the Congressman. The 30-second commercial features several Rhode Island voters questioning whether Cicilline is trustworthy enough to send back to Washington.
The decision to go negative followed several weeks of generally positive press for Cicilline, who has consistently focused on linking Doherty with Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and House Republicans. Even during a contentious Democratic primary where his opponent leveled vicious attacks against him, Cicilline has spent much of his time suggesting Doherty will simply be another vote for Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team.
And according to Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi, that strategy is working.
“The national Republican agenda represents the single biggest factor in the 1st District right now,” Profughi said. “Cicilline got a big push from the primary and is a seasoned campaigner. His Providence issues may well have run their course.”
The poll also showed that 53.7 percent of voters believe jobs and the economy is the most important issue of the election and Profughi said Doherty “needs to show why he would do a better job dealing with poor economic times, while Cicilline can continue to tie him to Romney, right-wing social issues, and Republican ideas on social security and health care.”
West: Hurt by National GOP
Among Republicans running for federal office in the Ocean State, the poll shows that Doherty continues to be the candidate with the best chance at winning a Congressional seat. Senate candidate Barry Hinckley, who announced his intentions to run for office around the same time Doherty did last year, trails first-term Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse by more than 25 percentage points while Congressman James Langevin holds a 23-point lead over Republican Michael Riley.
Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies and founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, said the national GOP has likely damaged local Republicans. West said Doherty, who has attempted to cast himself as an independent thinker similar to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, is particularly hurt by the national party.
“This survey is very good news for Congressman Cicilline,” West said. “It shows that he has turned around the race by tying Doherty to unpopular GOP leaders nationally. The poor showing of Romney in the presidential campaign has hurt Republicans in many states. Places that looked like Republican pickups now are trending towards Democrats.”
West said the 1st District race is in sync with what is happening in a number of other places around the country and Doherty has to distance himself from the national party and “provide a stronger rationale to voters.”
In the end, Cicilline’s strategy of focusing on women and seniors has been successful, West said.
“The fact that Cicilline is running well among women and senior citizens is something about which Doherty should be very concerned,” he said. “Unless he can narrow those margins, it will be difficult for him to win the race.”