The 2011 political forecast

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  December 15, 2010

But a post on the transportation and infrastructure committee, which would match up with his interests, seems in the realm of possibility. And his talents as a fundraiser — alongside a solid relationship with soon-to-be Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — bode well for the long term.


Just hours after the November elections, the Rhode Island Republican Party was turning its attention to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

The GOP sees vulnerability in the senator's freshman status, of course. But Whitehouse's emergence as a leading liberal voice in Washington also presents opportunity.

Conservatives take particular delight in a speech Whitehouse gave last year, during the health care debate, when he labeled GOP supporters "birthers," "fanatics," and members of "Aryan support groups."

And the senator's finest moments — he built a national profile with his forceful condemnation of torture — center on issues that are not of direct concern to Rhode Islanders.

But Whitehouse will make a case for a more nitty-gritty leadership: federal aid to combat Rhode Island's floods, a fight against credit card usury, and a push to close the Medicare "donut hole" — no small issue in one of the nation's grayest states.

Moreover, the same structural factors that should aid Cicilline in his first re-election bid — Obama's spot atop the ticket, a stronger Democratic ground operation — will work in Whitehouse's favor, too.

And with 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2012 in Democratic hands, the national GOP will have a rich target list — making attention to a long-shot Rhode Island race unlikely.

The Republican Party's odds grow even longer when you consider its thin bench in Rhode Island. But a strong challenge is not out of the question. The most intriguing name floated thus far is that of outgoing Governor Donald Carcieri. He would come with some baggage, no doubt. But his name recognition and fundraising ability would make for an interesting race. And if governor-elect Lincoln Chafee stumbles, Carcieri's stock could rise.


Senator Jack Reed has little to fear when it comes to electoral politics. He is, as one operative put it, the most popular person in Rhode Island next to Jesus. But the perennial speculation around whether he will ascend to the Secretary of Defense post — how many more ways can he say he's not interested? — makes for fun sport. And his clout in a Washington leaning a bit more to the right these days is worth watching. That seat on the Appropriations Committee, though still among the most coveted in the capital, could become a little less potent amid GOP rumblings of a ban on earmarks.

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