Brendan Doherty and his Republican allies in Washington will launch a fusillade of attacks against Democratic Congressman David Cicilline on Wednesday, hoping to put the freshman lawmaker on the defensive over Providence’s problems and remind 1st Congressional District voters why they gave him a Nixonian approval rating just months ago.
At the same time, Cicilline and his Democratic allies are increasingly confident he can survive the storm by tying Doherty to Paul Ryan, John Boehner and GOP policies that have little support in this staunchly Democratic district. Their self-assurance was bolstered Tuesday by Cicilline’s resounding 32-point primary victory over Anthony Gemma.
The Republican onslaught starts Wednesday morning with the launch of Doherty’s first TV commercial, a 30-second spot filmed in Woonsocket where the former state police colonel introduces himself to voters and scoffs at assertions that Congress can’t find wasteful spending to cut. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he declares.
The $122,470 coordinated ad buy with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) will run for two weeks through Sept. 25, WPRI.com has confirmed. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce previously put up more than $250,000 worth of pro-Doherty TV ads last spring, there’s little sign those did much for him.
Doherty himself will make the case against Cicilline at a press conference Wednesday morning in East Providence, a city seen as a key battleground in the race along with Pawtucket, North Providence and Newport. RIPR reports Doherty will detail 10 of Cicilline’s “most serious lies,” and the NRCC plans a separate push to reinforce that message.
Democrats plan to fight the race on different turf – a direct contrast between Democratic and Republican policies. The race will likely be decided by whether voters choose a congressman based on Cicilline’s character or Doherty’s party platform. The Democrats are almost certainly readying a TV ad attacking Doherty now that the primary is over.
“Rhode Island voters have a huge choice to make in both the presidential race between President Obama and Mitt Romney and in this race between David Cicilline and Brendan Doherty,” Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers said Tuesday night. Party spokesman Bill Fischer said separately the Providence issue has “been beaten to death.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) says the race is already Cicilline’s to lose, citing an automated telephone poll the party conducted Monday among 578 likely voters that found Cicilline at 49% and Doherty at 43%.
Those numbers imply a huge shift in Cicilline’s favor since the February WPRI 12 poll, which put Doherty at 49% and Cicilline at just 34%. Democrats say the striking results show the effectiveness of Cicilline’s positive, unchallenged TV ads in recent weeks and the strong Democratic lean of the district, which gave Obama two-thirds of the vote in 2008.
Aaron Strauss, the DCCC’s director of targeting and data, wrote in a memo Tuesday that Cicilline has 99% name recognition in the district, compared with 69% for Doherty, “leaving less room for movement in the last eight weeks.” He also cited Democrats’ 33-point voter-registration advantage in the district after state lawmakers redrew it in Cicilline’s favor.
Republicans scoffed at the findings. “You know David Cicilline is desperate and in trouble when he has to get national Democrats to pump out a questionable poll the day after his primary to prove his viability as a candidate,” NRCC spokesman Nathaniel Sillin told WPRI.com.
Ian Prior, Doherty’s campaign manager, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the race is now tighter than it was in February, but he dismissed the idea that Cicilline has pulled out to a 6-point lead over the last seven months.
Privately, Doherty’s aides acknowledge they’ll need to neutralize Cicilline’s advantage on Social Security and Medicare in order to win. They also need to cut the gender gap that currently has women leaning strongly toward the Democrat: a new Doherty Web ad has the first female state trooper in Rhode Island describing how he supported her.
Tim White contributed to this report.