Cicilline Leads in Poll: Does Gemma have a Game Changer?
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Democratic Congressional candidate Anthony Gemma is fading fast, but incumbent David Cicilline is still struggling to convince voters he deserves a second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a WPRI poll released Monday.
The survey of 302 likely primary voters shows Cicilline carrying a 12-point lead (43%-31%) over Gemma, with the Congressman holding significant leads among women, young people and the elderly. The poll shows Gemma performed well among men, voters ages 40-59 and union households, though Cicilline still leads in every demographic.
“Given the lackluster campaign that Gemma has run, I think it's surprising that he only trails by 12 points,” said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.
Bad Day for Gemma
The poll came on the same day Gemma was forced to sever ties with a campaign volunteer after the worker compared Cicilline to convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky on Twitter. The Democratic Party quickly called for Gemma to disavow the comment and later in the day, Gemma’s former field director Joe Lazzerini said he resigned because he felt the campaign was moving “in the wrong direction - both tactically and morally.”
The comment, which was made by Anthony Sionni, allowed the Cicilline campaign to pivot away from accusations leveled by Gemma that he was involved in a rampant voter fraud scheme dating back to 2002. On Monday, GoLocalProv reported that a 66-year-old man seen on video pledging to deliver hundreds of mail ballot votes for Gemma received a $103,000 loan from the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP) less than two years after volunteering on Cicilline’s 2002 Mayoral campaign.
The poll was conducted between Aug. 19 and Aug. 22, meaning most voters were contacted prior to Gemma’s voter fraud claims being made public. But those accusations aren’t likely to change the outcome of the primary, according to Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi, who pointed out that nearly 48 percent of those questioned had no opinion of Gemma whatsoever. Profughi suggested Gemma would likely need to win the undecided voters 2-1 in order to win the Sept. 11 primary.
“Gemma's stealth strategy has worked against him since he is no better known now than he was in May,” Profughi said. “He's getting clobbered by seniors who will vote. It's very hard to see how he can put together the required votes to win at this late date, especially given the recent press that is much more likely to hurt him than help him.”
Uphill Battle for Cicilline
Despite his comfortable lead over Gemma in the primary, Cicilline will still face an uphill battle against Republican candidate Brendan Doherty in the November election. The WPRI poll showed that nearly 79 percent of those questioned consider Providence’s finances somewhat or very important. Earlier this year, Cicilline was forced to publicly apologize for suggesting he left the city’s finances in “excellent financial condition” after current Mayor Angel Taveras threatened that he was considering filing for bankruptcy to bail out the cash-strapped city.
The poll also suggested that more than 52 percent of those who support Gemma would actually vote for Doherty in the general election if their candidate was unsuccessful in the primary.
“This poll tells us what we already knew,” Duffy said. “An incumbent isn't breaking 50 percent in a primary. Just over a third of voters in Cicllline's own party (Gemma plus [Chris] Young) are willing to vote against him. And, there is a healthy undecided just two weeks before the primary. Cicilline will win the primary, but his vote may well be underwhelming given the weak challenge he's gotten. None of this bodes well for the general election.”
Cicilline spokeswoman Nicole Kayner said the campaign was pleased with the poll, but was quick to criticize the Republican’s national agenda.
“While these numbers are encouraging, David will continue fighting to earn the support of every voter in the First District because he knows what is at stake in this election,” Kayner said. “David has been pushing back hard against the extreme elements of the Republican party that want to defund Planned Parenthood, end Medicare as we know it and extend tax breaks that encourage companies to ship American jobs overseas. This week the Republicans will be in Tampa nominating the most extreme and right-wing ticket in recent history and it's important that throughout this election we have a substantive discussion of the issues that matter to Rhode Islanders.”
The Gemma campaign did not issue a comment on the poll.
Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller said that while it appears Cicilline will defeat Gemma handily in the primary, there are still plenty of questions about the November election.
“However when an incumbent faces significant opposition within his own party, it leaves an opening for his challenger, who is most likely going to be Brendan Doherty,” Schiller said. “The fact that Gemma received support from nearly a third of Democratic voters says that there is still lingering dissatisfaction with Cicilline among his core base, and that is something he will have to work hard to remedy between now and Election Day.”
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