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Top 10 Potential Primary Opponents for Congressman Cicilline

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


After two polls in less than a week suggested incumbent Congressman David Cicilline faces an uphill battle in his reelection bid, local political analysts are saying they can envision a scenario where Cicilline either drops out of the race or a prominent Democrat steps up to run against him in a September primary.

Cicilline had just a 14.8 percent approval rating in last week’s Brown University poll and a WPRI.com poll Monday placed him 15 percentage points behind Republican candidate Brendan Doherty, who has never run for office before.

Rhode Island College professor of political communication Dr. Kay Israel said there comes a point where the right decision is simply to step aside.

“All too often candidates assume that if they have funding they can eke out a victory,” Israel said. “Candidates require money to win elections and there is little doubt that Congressman Cicilline has proven adept at raising it. The funding usually enables a candidate to communicate directly to the voters, but it doesn’t guarantee him the ability to define which matters are to be discussed.”

Cicilline has yet to give any indication that he won’t seek reelection, but at least three local Democrats have expressed interest in running for the seat while several others have at least been thrown into the conversation in political circles this week.

GoLocalProv has the complete breakdown:

Anthony Gemma

Gemma has all but confirmed that he plans to run against Cicilline and an announcement could come as soon as Friday. Although he has never held public office and doesn’t have the support of traditional Democrats, the wealthy businessman can match the Congressman dollar for dollar. His second place finish in the Democratic primary in 2010, which included a strong showing in Blackstone Valley, suggests he is viable.

David Segal

One of the few local Democrats that would run to the left of Cicilline, Segal has expressed interest in running for the seat but has yet to make a final decision. The former State Rep and Congressional candidate played a major role nationally in helping kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it is likely that he could raise huge sums of money from Silicon Valley-types if he decides to throw his hat into the ring.

Guillaume de Ramel

When asked Tuesday if he plans to run for Congress, the former Secretary of State candidate told GoLocalProv, “it’s a possibility.” The Newport businessman was willing to drop $400,000 of his own money against Ralph Mollis in 2006 only to lose Democratic primary by just over 4,000 votes.

“My primary interest is that Rhode Island maintains the seat with the most effective democrat - whoever that might be. I'm not interested in seeing the seat go to the republicans who have consistently failed this country,” de Ramel said.

Dan McKee

The popular Cumberland Mayor is the latest name being whispered as a potential candidate, although he is believed to be eyeing the open Lieutenant Governor’s seat in 2014 as well. McKee would have a groundswell of support in Blackstone Valley, but he is no friend of the teachers unions, who would likely go all-in to support Cicilline.

Merrill Sherman

The former president of BankRI was said to be considering mounting a challenge at Cicilline late last year, but then announced that she wouldn’t be getting involved. However, after the two recent polls, it is possible that she may rethink that decision.

Bill or Patrick Lynch

Like Sherman, the Lynch brothers have each suggested they aren’t interested in running for Congress this year, but that hasn’t stopped local politicos from attempting to convince them otherwise. The only problem now is that both of their names have been in the news lately in connection with the Sport Institute scandal at URI.

Jennifer Paolino

Sources close to former Mayor Joe Paolino say he is actively trying to recruit his daughter to challenge Cicilline. Jennifer Paolino currently works for Hillary Clinton in Washington D.C. and would likely be able to raise a lot of money in a hurry if she were to jump in the race. There is no love lost between Cicilline and her father, which would make the race that much more interesting.

Paul Moura

A former member of the General Assembly, Moura has said he is not ruling out another run for State Rep. or Senate. But strong support from labor could help raise money if he were to challenge Cicilline. Moura also lives in East Providence, which is considered a pivotal city in the 1st Congressional District.

Elizabeth Roberts

The current Lieutenant Governor doesn’t live in the 1st District (she can still run for the seat), but the fact that she has been elected to statewide office twice suggests she is viable. Roberts has a decision to make when it comes to next step in her political career; does she take a shot at Governor in 2014 and run the risk of a primary with Gina Raimondo? If she’s looking for another opportunity, Congress may be her best bet.

Frank or David Caprio

If Frank Caprio never made his infamous “shove it” remark, he would likely already be in the race. He could raise money and would be able to run as a moderate alternative to Cicilline. His brother David, who was targeted by labor and lost his House seat in 2010, is considered another option because of his ability to raise money.

Experts Differ

Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi said he can’t remember a time when an incumbent still ran for reelection despite such low polling numbers.

“Pollsters have concluded that if an elected official consistently receives a minus 30 percent rating or below it’s time for her to leave politics,” he said. “Statewide, Cicilline’s is 25-62, or minus-37 percent in his district. Although I can't say for sure, I can't think of any politician with these low ratings who has sought reelection and won. Members of Congress with such low ratings tend to leave office voluntarily."

Still, Brown Political Science professor Wendy Schiller said it’s difficult to count out Cicilline. Schiller said that while it’s possible an effort will be made to line someone up to run against Cicilline, it is unlikely.

“But in this case, I do not see any party organization leader emerging to do that. Moreover, it is still a long way until November, and if Mayor Taveras is successful in addressing the city's fiscal woes, I think the negative association voters have with Cicilline for his record as Mayor diminishes,” Schiller said.

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