Cicilline/Doherty Debate: Winners and Losers
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Incumbent Congressman David Cicilline and Republican candidate Brendan Doherty sparred over Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare, women’s rights and Providence’s finances Tuesday evening during their first live televised debate, hosted by WPRI and the Providence Journal.
The mostly civil debate rarely generated the types of personal attacks Cicilline faced in his heated Democratic primary with businessman Anthony Gemma, with Doherty arguing that voters in the 1st Congressional District should send a moderate Republican to Washington and the Congressman making the case that he deserves a second term in the House.
Both WPRI and Brown University released polls earlier this month that showed Cicilline holding a slight lead over Doherty, but most political observers agree that Cicilline is the midst of his most difficult race since entering politics nearly two decades ago.
So who won last night’s debate? GoLocalProv breaks down the highs and the lows for both candidates.
They Actually Agree on Many Issues
Unlike the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse and Republican Barry Hinckley and the 2nd Congressional District battle between incumbent Jim Langevin and Republican Mike Riley, Cicilline and Doherty aren’t shy about admitting they agree on several key policy issues.
Both candidates are opposed to privatizing Social Security or making Medicare a voucher system (Cicilline is against raising the age for Social Security altogether, however) and they each support lowering the corporate tax rate, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), certain parts of the Affordable Care Act and focusing on infrastructure to create jobs in Rhode Island.
There are plenty of differences between the candidates (their plans for trimming the deficit, for example), but Doherty’s strategy seems to be to make the case that sending him to Washington won’t drastically change the 1st District (he constantly compares himself to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown). The clear implication from Doherty is that Cicilline may be a fine Democrat, but he doesn’t deserve another term in Congress.
Cicilline Successfully Stuck to Script
Cicilline has earned his reputation as the state’s most polished politician for a reason and Tuesday showed why. Viewers could have tuned in at many time during the hour-long debate and they wouldn’t have had to wait more than a couple of minutes to hear him make the case that sending Doherty to Washington, even if he says he won’t always agree with House leadership, would be akin to casting a vote for the national Republican agenda.
In other words, Congressman Cicilline made the decision long ago to go all-in on making this race about Democrats and Republicans and he’s never strayed from that strategy. It may frustrate those who follow politics closely (most of those people have already made up their minds, of course) but for those who are only beginning to pay attention to the race now, that messaging may resonate.
Doherty was Solid on Social Security & Medicare
Cicilline may want voters to consider that “R” next to Doherty’s name some sort of scarlet letter, but the Republican was successful in making it clear that he doesn’t stand with the national GOP agenda when it comes to Social Security and Medicare.
From the beginning, Doherty said that he would never vote to move Medicare to a voucher system and followed that up later in the debate by highlighting Social Security and Medicare as the areas where he disagrees with Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney most.
Cicilline responded to Doherty’s claims that he has misled voters about where the Republican stands on the issues by harping on the fact that even if Doherty ultimately votes against House leadership, he’ll still be a member of the Party that attempted to make drastic changes to Social Security and Medicare.
Providence Plays a Central Role
Ciclline simply can’t escape Providence. The former Mayor refused to apologize to his 2010 Congressional opponent John Loughlin for claiming the city was in “excellent financial condition” and criticized the former internal auditor for leaking city financial information to talk radio hosts before raising questions internally.
Just as Cicilline has made the national Republican agenda a central focus of his campaign, Doherty will continue to tie everything Cicilline has done back to his days as Mayor to make the case that his dishonesty should not be rewarded with another term in Congress.
Doherty got Stronger as the Debate Went on
The Republican fumbled his words early on and failed to offer a concise vision for job creation during the debate’s first question, but he clearly became more confident and showed a much stronger grasp of several policy issues (particularly on the environment) than he has shown in the past (it clearly helped that Doherty spent a lot of time debating John Loughlin privately in recent days). He’s still not as well-versed in most areas as Cicilline, but he was solid when he defended his stance on Social Security and Medicare and when he was attacking Providence’s finances.
Doherty Attacks Miss the Mark
If there is one part of the recent Doherty strategy that will likely be tabled after this debate, it’s the issue of the Congressman’s record as a defense lawyer. The Republican got cornered into a spot where he had to agree that even criminals deserve lawyers (Cicilline didn’t even have to make that argument) and the entire attack (over an issue that very voters aren’t even paying attention to) fell flat.
Key Differences: Obamacare & Deficit Reduction
While they agree on plenty of issues, it is worth noting that Doherty still hasn’t completely backed away from his pledge to repeal Obamacare while Congressman Cicilline is an avid support of the federal health care law. Doherty predicted that if re-elected, even President Obama will likely be forced to make changes to the law.
On deficit reduction, Cicilline continues to make the case that “we’ve done nothing on the revenue side” while Doherty ripped Cicilline for supporting a progressive budget (a plan opposed by a significant number of Democrats) that will raise taxes, make cuts to the Navy and “kill small businesses.”
They Both Botched the Pension Reform Question
While it’s not an issue a member of Congress would have to address directly, both candidates struggled to answer a question about whether they support the statewide pension reform plan passed by the General Assembly last year. Cicilline praised General Treasurer Gina Raimondo for working on the issue, but refused to endorse it completely. Doherty said he was opposed the plan, but was incorrect when he referenced a friend’s pension being cut (cost-of-living increases were frozen, but pensions were not cut under the new law).
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