Who Wins: Cicilline or Gemma? Experts Predict
Friday, September 07, 2012
Congressman David Cicilline will likely prevail in his three-way Democratic primary next week, but that doesn’t make him a lock to defeat Republican Brendan Doherty in November, several political observers said Thursday.
The comments came hours before Cicilline and candidates Anthony Gemma and Chris Young squared off in the final television debate before the election. The debate, which took place at Rhode Island College, aired for 30 minutes live on Channel 10 and then continued for another half-hour on Turnto10.com.
Affigne said Gemma, who finished second to Cicilline in a four-way Democratic primary in 2010, has run a “disappointingly sparse campaign” that focused too much on attacking Cicilline while “offering little to help voters understand how his legislative goals and effectiveness might improve on the incumbent's.”
Affigne also suggested that Gemma’s character attacks on Cicilline, which included accusing the Congressman of engaging in voter fraud dating back to his run for Mayor of Providence in 2002, did little to improve the Democratic Party’s chances of retaining the seat.
“Unless Cicilline runs an extraordinarily skillful general election campaign, and Doherty an exceptionally inept one, Gemma may have helped deliver this congressional seat to the Republican party on a silver platter,” he said.
Sticking to the Issues
Gemma did not make voter fraud a key issue during Thursday’s debate, admitting that his internal polling suggested that voters would rather hear about the issues than his accusations. Gemma did say he does not regret making the claims and predicted that history will show he was correct.
Just as in previous debates, Cicilline and Gemma agreed on the majority of federal issues while Young lobbed bombs at both candidates. At one point, Young and Gemma went back and forth accusing each other of flip-flopping on their stance on abortion (Young was once pro-choice and Gemma ran as a pro-life candidate in 2010).
Gemma meanwhile argued that Cicilline does not deserve another term in Congress because he misled voters about the state of Providence’s finances in 2010. Cicilline has apologized multiple times for suggesting he was leaving the city in “excellent finance condition” two years ago. Upon taking office, current Mayor Angel Taveras, a Cicilline supporter, found himself stuck with a $110 million structural deficit.
As he has throughout the campaign, Cicilline stuck to a playbook that focused on national issues, attacking Republicans for not doing more to create jobs in the United States and touting his endorsements from key women’s groups.
Despite focusing more on the issues in the final week of the campaign, Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi said Gemma’s voter fraud accusations likely damaged his campaign. He predicted Cicilline could win in a landslide.
“Cicilline will easily win, maybe by as much as nearly two-to-one,” Profughi said. “Gemma never got well enough known and had no clear message, then the fraud accusations made him look very silly, or worse with many voters.”
Cicilline a Clear Favorite
Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C, agreed that Gemma’s decision to hold a press conference on the voter fraud issue several weeks ago probably “raised more questions than it answered for voters.”
Gemma says he spent $40,000 to hire a private investigative firm to look into Cicilline’s connection to voter fraud in the capital city, but critics have argued that Gemma failed to prove any direct ties to the Congressman. Cicilline has called Gemma’s claims “bizarre” and “infuriating.”
West said Gemma may have been better off had he run a traditional campaign.
“It always is difficult to unseat an incumbent, but Gemma would have boosted his prospects if he had run a more conventional campaign,” West said.
While Cicilline has been running commercials for several weeks, Gemma has done little to promote his name through paid advertising. A WPRI poll released last week suggested that 47.7 percent of likely Democratic primary voters had no opinion of the candidate. The same poll placed Gemma behind Cicilline by about 12 percentage points.
Still, Brown political science professor Wendy Schiller suggested Gemma will have a strong ground game Tuesday that could help him close the gap.
“Generally, I think Cicilline is favored but I also think he has to remind Dems to get out to vote for him - the Gemma folks will definitely go out the door to vote,” Schiller said.
Duffy: Watch the Margin of Victory
While Cicilline has established himself as the clear favorite on Tuesday, the results will still be worth watching, according to Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.
The WPRI poll found that 52 percent of Gemma’s supporters said they would vote for Doherty over Cicilline in the general election. Gemma himself has said he could not “in good conscience” vote for the Congressman. On Thursday, he said he would consider Independent candidate David Vogel if he is unsuccessful on Tuesday. Young also said he would not support Cicilline.
Doherty held a double-digit lead over both Cicilline and Gemma in a poll released earlier this year.
“Cicilline is the clear favorite in the primary,” Duffy said. “His margin of victory will tell us something about the general election.”
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