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Campaign Finance: Experts Break Down Winners And Losers

Saturday, July 16, 2011


15 months out from the 2012 primaries, fundraising for the major federal races is already in full swing. Campaign finance reports for the second quarter that ended June 30 were due Friday and the results show incumbent Democrats having strong performances while their Republican challengers had mixed results, according to Rhode Island’s political experts.

And the importance of getting off to a quality start, even if the races won’t actually pick up steam for another year, cannot be understated. The early fundraising numbers can often change how candidates are perceived and give a glimpse into what both of the national parties think of the person, whether they are an incumbent or a challenger.

Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., said it is important to get off to a good start when it comes to fundraising for a top statewide office.

“Early fundraising matters because it affects public and media perceptions about vulnerability,” West said. “You have to raise enough to be able to control your message and overcome whatever liabilities that you have.”

1st District: Cicilline Does Well

So how did the top names in the most-talked about race heading into 2012 perform?

The 1st Congressional seat currently held by David Cicilline has been talked about as being at-risk ever since the Congressman took office in January. The former Providence Mayor hasn’t been helped by a lot of negative press in the capital city regarding a $110 million structural deficit and various polls have suggested Cicilline is vulnerable in 2012.

But Congressional incumbents are often very difficult to knock off and despite being in the minority party in the House, Ciciline was able to put up solid fundraising numbers in the second quarter, raising closing to $360,000 over the past three months.

West said Cicilline’s strong numbers may have sent a message to Democrats thinking about challenging him in a primary in 2012.

“There were interesting fundraising numbers,” he said. “Cicilline had a strong quarter. He raised a lot of money and this probably will deter other Democrats from getting into the race.”

First Time Candidate Also Strong

The one candidate that has officially made it clear he intends to run for the seat is Republican Brendan Doherty. The former head of the state police, Doherty managed to bring in over $300,000 in less than two months time.

Doherty said hundreds of supporters, almost entirely from Rhode Island, have donated to his campaign so far. “Make no mistake, this will be a long and hard fought campaign, but I am in it to win it for all those people in the District who are tired of the status quo and the lack of character, integrity and strength our present representation embodies,” he said.

West said Doherty appears to be a credible candidate.

“Doherty had a strong showing,” he said. “For a first time candidate, he had very impressive numbers. If he continues that pace, he will be a credible opponent for the Congressional seat.”

Profughi: Cicilline Still The Standard Bearer

Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi agreed with West. He said both Cicilline and Doherty had successful quarters and mentioned that the other name thrown around in this race, former Republican candidate John Loughlin, appears to be at a disadvantage. Loughlin is currently serving his country in Iraq.

“As for Loughlin -however admirable it might have been for him to return to military service - he clearly will be at a major disadvantage with finances when he gets back,” Profughi said.

Profughi said Cicilline’s strong showing was most impressive given his low polling numbers.

“Certainly Cicilline's big push to build a heavy fundraising effort was more than simply the normal push to get in lots of dollars for any reelection effort,” he said. “I think his success may give some potential Democrat opponents pause, but also send a message to Democrats that despite all of his bad press, he's still the likely standard bearer.”

He agreed that Doherty is doing all the right things early into his campaign.

“Doherty is playing it very smart--sticking to the basics of fund raising and focusing on people he will need to win the primary,” Profughi said.

2nd District: Langevin Performs Well

Congressman James Langevin has no official challenger yet, but that didn’t stop the state’s senior Representative from pulling in nearly $150,000 in the second quarter. Langevin, who cruised to reelection last fall, made headlines last month he was forced to pay the state $127,000 for making a campaign error.

Concerns over the mistake were not evident in his quarterly filing. The Congressman continued to quietly amass the cash he’ll need should a challenge emerge from the right or left in 2012.

Whitehouse Huge, Hinckley Just Beginning

The other major race heading into 2012 is expected to be for the Senate seat held by Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse is nearing the end of his first term and Republican Barry Hinckley is currently the only known Republican challenger.

He’ll have an uphill battle. Senator Whitehouse reports having nearly $2.2 million in cash on hand after raising $800,000 in the second quarter.

“Whitehouse had terrific numbers,” West said. “He looks in good shape for 2012.”

Hinckley, who recently said he hopes to raise $10 million, has brought in $150,000 in his first four months since announcing his candidacy. Hinckley said he plans to have a more ambitious fundraising plan in the third quarter.

“As a young campaign, we’re building a strong contingent of grassroots supporters throughout Rhode Island, and I’m pleased with our progress after only four months,” Hinckley said. “I am confident that with a strong campaign foundation behind me, I can focus 100% of my time on defeating Sheldon Whitehouse next year.”


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