10 Key Things to Watch in Tonight’s Cicilline/Doherty Debate
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
The first live debate between Congressman David Cicilline and Republican Brendan Doherty takes place tonight at the Providence Performing Arts Center. GoLocalProv has the top ten things to watch as the two battle to represent the 1st Congressional District.
1) Can Doherty Keep Up with Cicilline?
Or rather, can Brendan Doherty slow down Congressman Cicilline? While Cicilline is a more polished politician who has a proven track record in debates, Brendan Doherty has earned a reputation for getting tounge-tied on policy issues. But the Republican has come a long way since what many considered a painful appearance on Newsmakers in March and has put together a solid staff that should help him with the debate prep. Expect Doherty to attempt to portray himself as the more thoughtful candidate and Cicilline as a slick talker who will say anything to win re-election.
2) Will the Gloves Come Off?
Doherty seemed to lose his temper several weeks ago when the Cicilline campaign began criticizing the Republican for his unwillingness to expand the “Violence Against Women Act.” This led the Doherty campaign to attack Cicillne for his record as a criminal defense lawyer and State Representative. A former head of the State Police forcing Cicilline to give the “everyone deserves their day in court” answer could score points for Doherty, but there’s always a chance an attack will backfire the way it did for Anthony Gemma in the Democratic primary.
3) How Much Does Providence Matter?
Speaking of the primary debates, Cicilline still struggled to answer questions about his handling of Providence finances, but Gemma was already all-in with his voter fraud accusations and by the time he did begin talking about the city, it was too late. Doherty has taken a smarter approach by releasing a commercial featuring Cicilline claiming he was leaving the city in “excellent financial condition” and he will likely make this an issue tonight.
4) Doherty VS the National GOP
Just as Cicilline may have to answer questions about Providence, Doherty has to answer questions about his support for Mitt Romney and his ties to the national Republican Party. The Congressman has pulled ahead in the polls thanks in large part to his efforts to make the race about Democrats VS Republicans the same way Senator Sheldon Whitehouse did against Lincoln Chafee in 2006. Tonight is Doherty’s opportunity to outline precisely where he stands with the GOP and where he will disagree with House leadership.
5) Will Cicilline Stay on Message?
While Cicilline has a reputation for being a sharp debater, it’s worth noting that he’s never really had a race as close as his current one. He won his first Mayor’s race relatively comfortably, cruised to re-election in 2006, was a solid favorite during both his primary and general election races in 2010 and always had the upper hand on Gemma heading into last month’s primary. Now his negatives are as high as they’ve ever been heading into a debate and he may not know exactly what to expect from his opponent this time around. It will be interesting to see if he sticks to his usual script and whether Brendan can say anything that takes him off message.
6) The Obamacare Question
It’s one of the key differences between the two candidates. Doherty has said on the record that he would vote to repeal Obamacare, but has backtracked slightly to make it clear he supports certain parts of the law (young people staying on their family’s health insurance until age 26, for example). But Doherty could find himself in a difficult position if asked if there is any scenario where he would vote against repealing the law.
7) The Fight for the Female Vote
If you’re going to see fireworks tonight, it will likely be on this issue. Cicilline knows he hit a nerve when his campaign questioned Doherty’s support for women’s issues and will likely continue to apply pressure tonight by pointing to his support for a women’s right to choose as well as Obamacare. Doherty will talk about his support for the female State Trooper and may attempt to compare his record in law enforcement with Cicilline’s record as a defense lawyer.
8) Will Immigration Become an Issue?
For all the accusations about Congressman Cicilline attempting to manipulate the redistricting process to pick up more of South Providence, there has been very little talk about immigration issues so far. Doherty admits that he left the State Police in part because he and Governor Chafee disagreed over the Secure Communities initiative, which could draw criticism from Cicilline. Doherty also opposes the DREAM Act. At the same time, Secure Communities polls very well in Rhode Island (just ask Peter Kilmartin) and Doherty can point to his long history as a coach and mentor in South Providence to show that he has respect for the Latino community.
9) How Aggressive will the Moderators Be?
At this point, you can expect the Congressman and Doherty to have the talking points in place to answer initial questions, but the follow up questions will decide the debate. Expect Doherty to be asked specifically where he disagrees with House Republicans and Cicilline to be asked for real examples on how to trim the nation’s deficit.
10 Will Doherty have his Romney Moment?
They’re within the margin of error, but even Doherty’s closest allies concede that Cicilline is slightly ahead in the polls. But a strong debate performance (and the positive press it would generate) from Doherty could give him the momentum heading down the stretch. The question is whether he has a Mitt Romney-esque performance in him this evening. Of course, if Cicilline is on his game and can stick to his talking points, a victory tonight may increase his lead and carry him to re-election.
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