Cicilline, Loughlin give CD1 voters a real choice

Now that’s what I call a debate!

There’s no question that voters in the 1st Congressional District have a clear choice as they decide who they want to send to Washington as a successor to U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin clashed at tonight’s WPRI debate over everything from Social Security and climate change to Cicilline’s record on ethics and education as mayor.

I didn’t think there was a clear winner, which is not a knock on either candidates – both of them made their cases effectively and energetically. (Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming disagreed with me on that score; he gave Loughlin “a very slight edge.”) That was partly thanks to a very solid set of questions from Tim White and his two Projo assistants – they asked about issues that brought out clear distinctions between the two.

“It’s going to be a very active two weeks in this race” before voters go to the polls on Nov. 2, Fleming told me after the debate. “I think this race could be close depending on if Mr. Loughlin can raise the money to get his message out these last two weeks.”

You can read a recap of the debate right now on WPRI.com; the entire 90-minute video will be posted in the same place later tonight. In the meantime, here are some quick post-debate impressions:

* As expected, Loughlin came out swinging against Cicilline from the start, trying to put the mayor on the defensive – which he did quite effectively at times. Cicilline’s weakest moment was an HR-exec-like explanation for why his department heads allegedly have been getting extra vacation time. Still, I didn’t hear anything that could be described as a knock-out punch, and Cicilline was on his game tonight. That’s welcome news for the Democrat, since polls show him with a double-digit lead over his opponent.

* Social Security has emerged as the issue of this race – which is almost always good news for the Democrat, in this case Cicilline. The two men argued fiercely over whether Loughlin’s support for allowing younger workers to divert their payroll taxes into personal investment accounts is “privatization.” Loughlin says it could be done without damaging traditional Social Security; Cicilline notes that it would worsen the Social Security system’s finances by depriving it of revenue needed to pay benefits now. You’ll hear more about that in the next two weeks.

* Speaking of Social Security, neither man gets a Profile in Courage award for his pandering support of giving seniors extra Social Security payments when inflation is too low to merit an annual increase under the standard formula. Deficit much?

* Grades for Patrick Kennedy’s tenure as congressman: A “C” from Loughlin, an “A- or B+” from Cicilline. Both men praised Kennedy’s success in passing a mental health parity law – which, oddly enough, was also used to enact the hated TARP.

* Like many Republicans nowadays, Loughlin is a climate change skeptic. “I think there is no scientific consensus … on human-caused global warming at this point,” he said, later adding: “Clearly the earth is warming, but it’s not conclusive yet that it’s caused by man.” Although he pivoted to talk about his opposition a cap-and-trade bill (which Cicilline supports), that may have been a jarring statement for independents in deep-blue Rhode Island.

* For all the argument over extending the Bush tax cuts, the two candidates are in agreement on 80% of them. That’s because extending the Bush tax cuts for all households costs an estimated $3.7 trillion; extending them for those making under $250,000 would cost $3 trillion. The difference – $700 billion – is a lot of money, but it’s less than one-fifth of the entire bill for extending them. Just sayin’.

* My favorite line was when Loughlin said Democrats keep arguing “we’re just one more stimulus package from prosperity.” Ouch!

All in all, tonight’s debate showed that 1st District voters have a clear choice between a true Democrat and a true Republican as they decide who to support. Agree? Disagree? Have your own favorite moments? Leave your thoughts in the comments – no registration required.

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