Might voters replace another New England Kennedy with a Republican? A new poll, commissioned by the National Republican Congressional Committee and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, shows that Rhode Island’s First Congressional District is in play, with Republican state representative John Loughlin tied with Providence’s Democratic mayor David Cicilline at 41 percent.
Moreover, it seems this election has the Democratic establishment spooked. President Barack Obama will be in Rhode Island today, campaigning there with only a week before the November 2 election in what used to be a heavily Democratic state.
“When you drill it down to [most] likely voters, we have a five-point lead,” Loughlin says optimistically in a phone interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Even that possibility is remarkable in the First Congressional District.
Since 1995, Democrat Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Ted Kennedy, has represented the district, which includes Newport, Bristol, and parts of Providence Counties. The younger Kennedy is retiring after having won his last seven elections by no less than 60 percent. This rare open seat would normally not be in play (Obama earned 65 percent there in 2008). But this year's different.
Loughlin, who unapologetically calls himself a “centrist Republican,” says voters are flocking to him as they find out more about his opponent. Stories about Cicilline’s “taxpayer-funded security detail” on the campaign trail and a series of pay raises while mayor, Loughlin says, are turning away voters who are concerned about jobs and the economy. And Cicilline’s decision not to veto a property tax increase this summer after threatening to do so has not helped.
But the national political environment seems also to be helping the Republican. Loughlin argues that health care reform is not popular in Rhode Island, and he is trying to connect Cicilline to the policy. “He supports Obamacare,” Loughlin says. “That hurts him in the district.” Loughlin says he is against the cuts to Medicare in the health care law.
So could this race be a repeat of the last New England upset? Some of the heavy hitters from Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts last January are making appearances in the district, including Sen. Scott Brown himself.
“Their internals must be showing the same thing,” Loughlin says of the decision to have the president campaign in Rhode Island today. President Obama, of course, campaigned during the closing days of the campaign against Brown in Massachusetts. But it didn't help: Brown prevailed over his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley.
Additionally, a tight three-way race in the gubernatorial race may affect this down-ballot race. The Republican Governor's Association recently booked $400,000 worth TV ads for candidate John Robitaille, who is facing Democrat Frank Caprio and independent (and former Republican senator) Lincoln Chafee.