Silver: GOP may refocus on Whitehouse in push to win Senate

Is Rhode Island’s U.S. Senate race about to heat up?

It will be an upset for the ages if Republican Barry Hinckley defeats Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse this November, but stranger things have happened. The GOP U.S. Senate candidates in neighboring states – Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Linda McMahon in Connecticut – are both nearly tied right now, and six years ago an offbeat Rhode Island Republican won 46.5% of the vote amid a nationwide landslide for Democrats.

With Republican hopes for a Senate takeover starting to fade, New York Times numbers guru Nate Silver on Tuesday listed Rhode Island as a “Democratic Seat Where a Republican Takeover Is Possible”:

Republicans risk death by a thousand cuts, with a gradual deterioration in their standing in several important races, and their inability to field optimal candidates in others. …

A true long shot might be Rhode Island, where the Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse’s fund-raising has been poor and where Republicans have an interesting and unorthodox candidate in the libertarian-leaning Barry Hinckley. But Rhode Island is strongly Democratic and Mr. Hinckley has received little support from the national party.

Whitehouse had a 22-point lead in the February WPRI 12 poll, but his job approval rating was only 38%. He should benefit from President Obama’s coattails and a huge financial advantage – as of Aug. 22, Whitehouse’s campaign had $2.8 million on hand while Hinckley’s had $554,124. But Rhode Island is an affordable media market with more “elastic” voters than any other state, and Hinckley’s platform is “part-Democrat, part-Republican.”

• Related: Hinckley’s firm sold; new ‘flexibility’ for his campaign spending (Aug. 7)

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