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Democrat is Cicilline’s Biggest Threat in 2012

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Rep. David Cicilline and his staffers are living a political nightmare. With more than 40 percent of Rhode Islanders rating the Democrat’s job performance as “poor” – according to the latest WPRI poll – it looks more and more everyday like he will lose in 2012.

But when it comes to a Republican ousting the incumbent – don’t believe the hype. The Democrat running in CD-1 in 2012 will win. However, what should scare the former Providence mayor’s inner-circle is the far more likely threat of a fellow Democrat beating him in a September 2012 primary.

Over the past few weeks, former state police colonel Brendan Doherty (R) and state representative John Loughlin (R) have made their aspirations of challenging the incumbent widely known.

Both candidates – Doherty and Loughlin – have strong credentials, as well as impressive in their own right at captivating an audience and stirring up their political base. On top of that, with the recent WPRI poll showing that each of them could beat the incumbent in a head-to-head race, it’s easy to see why many believe a Republican will win CD-1 in 2012.

However, both Republican candidates will inevitably embark upon a bruising primary campaign. And as a result, their negatives will be heavily exposed and the winner will go into the General Election having spent a lot of money. And whoever the Republican candidate is left standing after a hard-fought primary, the General Election path is far from easy.

The victor will go on to face a Democrat who shares party affiliation with the popular President Obama, as well as U.S. Senator Whitehouse – who are atop of the November 2012 ballot, and will more than likely win while driving party loyalist turnout at the polls. This gives the Democrat in CD-1 a high likelihood of winning the General Election.

Therefore, if Rep. Cicilline can survive in September, he has a good chance of returning to congress.

But winning a primary against anyone at this point wouldn’t be easy for the incumbent – especially as his approval rating sits at 17 percent according to the latest Brown University poll. And as his Democratic support continues to slip, the likelihood of a well-known Democrat primary challenging him becomes more likely every day. As it should – there is a clear path to victory for a primary opponent.

Although Rep. Cicilline will have a sizeable war chest, this will be much less important in a low turnout Democratic primary. And there will be low turnout in the primary because registered Independents – who can vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary – will trend to the Republican side due to races being more competitive on the Presidential, U.S. Senate, and CD-1 fronts.

The big question is who could challenge Cicilline and win – and that’s where former Attorney General Patrick Lynch enters the conversation. With more than $400,000 in his campaign fund, a strong network from which to raise more money, high name recognition, and gracefully bowing out after an ill-fated gubernatorial run in 2010, he has built up good-will in the party and could win.

This is especially true in a low turnout Democrat primary, where most of Providence – the incumbent’s base – is at odds with him. And former Attorney General Lynch – a native of the high base Democratic voter area of Blackstone Valley – would likely garner more votes in the Valley, and would more than likely do very well amongst the Hispanic community in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls.

A similar story could play out if Treasurer Raimondo decided to take Rep. Cicilline on in a primary challenge. A Providence resident herself, she could potentially beat the incumbent in his own city, defeat him in several Blackstone Valley cities and towns, and win by a sizeable margin – likely by much more than former Attorney General Lynch.

To the best of my knowledge, former Attorney General Lynch and Treasurer Raimondo have not expressed interest in running for this seat. Nor has a noteworthy Democrat, yet. But any challenger who can raise enough money, and is willing to run a hard-nosed disciplined primary campaign, could become the next CD-1 congressman. And for Democrat’s with political ambition, taking over a U.S. House seat – especially one that once was filled by the prestigious Kennedy legacy – is within reach in 2012.

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Brett Broesder is a former campaign manager for Peter F. Kilmartin’s successful Attorney General run in 2010, and also served as the policy and legislative director for the office of Rhode Island Attorney General. He is currently a public-relations consultant for Hill & Knowlton in New York, NY.


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