The first touted his job creation credentials, the second appealed to the vote-rich senior set, the third highlighted his proposed Made in America Block Grant, designed to retool factories and retrain workers for the new economy.

"I'm David Cicilline and I approved this message which was . . . made in Rhode Island," the candidate says at the end of the spot, with a group of workers joining in for the "made in Rhode Island" line.

Eric Hyers, Cicilline's campaign manager, argues that the message of industrial renewal is playing particularly well in the Blackstone Valley region that Lynch is counting as his base.

Message, money, name recognition. These are the building blocks for the Cicilline campaign — and if he wins, proof that the traditional metrics of electoral power still matter, even in a supposed year of the outsider.


The professionalism of Cicilline's operation, combined with Democrats' built-in advantages in a deep-blue state like Rhode Island, would make him the heavy favorite in a November match-up with Loughlin, a state representative from Tiverton.

But in the wake of Scott Brown's surprise victory in the race for another Kennedy seat — the Senate post once held by the late Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts — Democrats are taking the GOP challenger seriously.

Of course, the Brown-Loughlin analogy only goes so far. Brown had the element of surprise in his race and Democrats will not be caught flat-footed again. Moreover, the soon-to-be-crowned Massachusetts senator was running in a special election after Ted Kennedy's death and had no competition from other races around the country for conservative money and volunteers.

But the wave of anger at the Obama administration that helped carry Brown to victory has only grown stronger in recent months. And analysts are giving Republicans a good shot at erasing the Democrats' 77-seat margin in the House.

The nonpartisan Cook Report, which handicaps Congressional races, has moved a dozen Democratic-held seats from its "likely Democrat" or "lean Democrat" categories into "toss-up" over the last two months. And the report suggests a handful of seats once considered safe for the Democrats will now have to be defended. Among them: the Kennedy post.

Of course, it is easy to overstate the case. The seat, if on the radar now, is still in Cook's "likely Democrat" category — hardly teetering on the brink.

And while Kennedy's decision to bow out of the race was probably good news for Loughlin on balance – incumbents are difficult to beat, even in a "change" year — it made it nearly impossible to raise money from conservatives around the country who would relish the chance to knock off a Kennedy but otherwise have scant interest in a small, heavily Democratic district in Rhode Island.

Indeed, Loughlin will be competing for national dollars with dozens of Republican challengers running in far more conservative districts — the sort of districts that voted Democratic amid the anti-Bush surges of 2006 and 2008 but naturally cleave to the GOP.

Loughlin says he is not expecting much help from the party structure itself. When he first hopped in the race against Kennedy, he jokes, he got a meeting not with the director of the National Republican Congressional Committee or even an intern, but with an assistant to the intern.

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Related: Split atop the RI Tea Party, 2009 had some redeeming qualities - really, A lawyer’s adventures in bad judgment, More more >
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