Cicilline & Doherty in Dead Heat: Experts React
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Democratic Congressman David Cicilline and Republican candidate Brendan Doherty are in a virtual dead heat with less than a week to go before the election, according to a new poll released Tuesday evening by WPRI.
The survey of 300 likely voters in the 1st Congressional District has the first-term incumbent holding a one-point lead over Doherty (42.6 percent-41.6 percent) with just over 8 percent saying they are still undecided. Independent candidate David Vogel is supported by 6.3 percent of likely voters. The margin of error for the poll was 5.6 percent.
Doherty held a double-digit lead over Cicilline prior to the Democratic primary, but the Congressman surged ahead after his resounding victory over businessman Anthony Gemma to take a six-point lead over the Republican in September.
But a slew of vicious attacks ads from the National GOP that highlight Cicilline’s past as a defense lawyer have helped Doherty close the gap heading into the race’s final days, according to Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi.
“Once Doherty went on TV his recognition went up with speed, and his message appears to have neutralized the incumbent advantage and rekindled opposition to Cicilline that may have been somewhat forgotten since the last election,” Profughi said.
Duffy: Cicilline in Dangerous Position
Cicilline still holds double-digit leads among women and young people ages 18-39, but Profughi noted that the Congressman’s edge among voters 65 and older has been trimmed (from 10 points to 6.9 points) and Doherty is now winning the independent vote by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Among union households, Cicilline holds a lead of less than 2 percent.
Doherty has a 51 percent favorability rating with just under 25 percent disliking the Republican. Cicilline, who approval rating was stuck in the teens earlier this year, now has 36 percent of voters supporting the job he has done in Washington.
According to Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, voters appear to be getting more comfortable with Doherty as they get to know him. Duffy said she doesn’t believe Vogel will end up with six percent of the vote, suggesting many of those who say they plan to cast a protest vote will likely pick one of the leading candidates or stay home.
Duffy said it isn’t clear how, at 43 percent, Cicilline will pick up the extra points to help him hold his seat.
“It is very dangerous for any incumbent to be at 43 percent a week before the election,” she said. “Yes, Cicilline has some elasticity by virtue of the Democratic nature of the district, but it is hard to make up those last few points. He will get very little of the undecided vote and he is already outpolling his approval rating, so there is no ground to make up there.”
In the end, Duffy said it will all come down to who turns out on election night.
“This last week will be important for both campaigns,” she said. “It may ultimately come down to whether Doherty has a strong ground game. We can assume that Cicilline already does.”
West: Too Close to Call
Cicilline is also expected to benefit from President Obama and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse being on the ticket. Obama won the 1st District 65-33 in 2008 and Whitehouse holds a 22-point lead over Republican challenger Barry Hinckley, according to the WPRI poll.
Throughout the race, Cicilline has focused on attempting to tie Doherty to Romney and what he calls the “radical” Republican agenda that would turn Medicare into a voucher system and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Doherty has pledged to protect Medicare and Social Security, but has said he would like to see changes when it comes to Obamacare.
While much of the criticism directed at Cicilline during his first two years in Washington has been related to misleading statements he made about Providence’s finances during his time as Mayor of the capital city, Doherty has chosen to attack the Congressman based on his voting record when he was State Representative in the ‘90s and his time as a defense lawyer. The race has turned particularly ugly when discussing women’s issues.
Still, while the race appears to be too close to call, Brown Political Science professor Wendy Schiller took issue with the poll, suggesting the margin of error is too high. Earlier this month, Brown released a similar poll that had Cicilline ahead by 6.6 points.
“The margin of error on this poll is just too large to take it seriously,” Schiller said. “Nearly 6 percent error means we have no confidence that these numbers accurately reflect the population.”
But Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies and director of the center for technology innovation at the Brookings Institution, said the poll simply confirms that Cicilline and Doherty are in a close race that will go down to the wire.
“Cicilline has come a far distance from where he was this summer, when everyone had written him off,” West said. “But he has to continue to draw the contrasts in policy vision. The tightness of the race shows that Doherty's hard-hitting message on character has slowed the Congressman's rise. This will be a nail-biting close over the next week.”