Cicilline’s comeback foretold

Survey Says
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  October 3, 2012

WPRI-TV released a new poll this week giving Congressman David Cicilline a six-point edge on his Republican rival Brendan Doherty.

It is, in some respects, a remarkable turnabout for the incumbent. The last independent poll in the race, commissioned by WPRI in February, gave Doherty a 15-point lead.

But Cicilline's comeback potential has long been evident.

Cicilline, of course, was serving as mayor of Providence in 2010 when he launched his first, successful bid for Congress. And his campaign declaration that the capital was in "excellent" fiscal condition came back to haunt him when new Providence Mayor Angel Taveras declared a "Category 5 hurricane" on the city's books.

But a little-noticed poll commissioned by web site golocalprov in September 2011, which gave Cicilline a lead on two potential GOP rivals, provided the first glimpse of a comeback.

As I wrote then (see "On the Rebound," 11.4.11), the most logical reading of the survey was this: the initial furor surrounding the Providence budget had died down and a new, national controversy over the debt ceiling had inflamed a deep blue state's aversion to Republicans.

Here lay the key to any sustained Cicilline resurgence: sidelining the Providence story, and the issues of trust it invoked, and shifting the focus to the partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans.

When WPRI's February 2012 poll landed, giving Doherty the 15-point lead, it was undoubtedly bad news for the incumbent. But it came in the wake of another bad spate of press about Providence's finances.

And as I argued at the time, the long view suggested that the race was fluid — that Cicilline could still recover, particularly with the presidential race bound to focus attention on issues like Medicare and Social Security that break for Democrats (see "After another dismal poll, Cicilline's (narrow) path to victory," 3.2.12).

A deep dive into the poll numbers only drove the point home. The survey found that Doherty had made bigger gains among Democrats between September 2011 and February 2012 than among independents. That was simply unsustainable.

So, too was Doherty's huge February lead in union households, 56-27. Indeed, this week's WPRI poll gives Cicilline a 43-31 lead in those homes.

I also argued, back in June, that the women's vote would be key to Cicilline's re-election effort (see "Win with Women?," 6.22.12). And the new poll bears that out. Indeed, the incumbent's 47-34 lead among women has allowed him to overcome a small deficit among men and a rather large one among independent voters.

So does all this mean the Congressman has wrapped up his re-election? Far from it. The race is still close. Maybe even closer than it appears. The WPRI poll has a relatively large margin of error — 6.2 percent.

And the Providence finances issue is still quite potent. Indeed, the Doherty campaign launched its first television ad attacking the incumbent on the issue just after the WPRI poll came out of the field.

Will it be enough? Or has Cicilline, who has skillfully married Doherty to the national GOP agenda, shifted the terms of the debate enough to win? To complete his return from near-oblivion?

If the incumbent does, indeed, pull it off, it'll be something to see.

But it will also be a comeback foretold.

  Topics: This Just In , Congress, David Cicilline, WPRI-TV,  More more >
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