Brendan Doherty can still beat David Cicilline, but the math is getting tougher.
Doherty’s campaign revealed Thursday it commissioned a poll last week that shows the Republican with a slim lead over the Democratic incumbent. Campaign manager Ian Prior declined to release the head-to-head results but said Doherty’s lead is within the survey’s 4-point margin of error.
Doherty’s poll of 400 voters on Sept. 13 and 14 was conducted by OnMessage Inc., a GOP consulting firm that previously worked for former Gov. Donald Carcieri. The survey sampled 52% registered independents, 32% registered Democrats and 14% registered Republicans.
The Cicilline campaign quickly pointed out OnMessage’s sample doesn’t reflect actual voter registration numbers in the 1st District or their own estimate of likely voters’ partisan makeup, which is 47% Democrats, 44% independents and 9% Republicans.
“We can only speak for this campaign – we don’t spend any money on feel-good polling,” Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers told WPRI.com. “If other campaigns want to do polls that are designed to get them numbers they can use in the press or fundraising, that’s fine. It’s not what we do.”
The disclosure about Doherty’s poll comes the same week Democrats released two polls they commissioned showing Cicilline with a double-digit lead. Prior dismissed those findings but didn’t dispute that the race has tightened since a February WPRI 12 poll gave Doherty a 15-point lead.
“We are the underdog because we’re going against the incumbent – and we like being the underdog,” Prior told WPRI.com. “Even when our lead was 15 points we still considered ourselves the underdogs.”
Hyers said Prior’s objections to the Democratic polls are off base, citing the experience of the two firms that conducted them, Benenson Strategy Group and The Feldman Group, and the fact they got similar results separately. “We have a lot of momentum on our side right now,” Hyers said.
“Three separate polls have all confirmed that this race has changed and things are moving in David’s direction,” he said. “We like where this race is right now and we’re going to continue to work incredibly hard and run like we’re 10 points down.”
While no independent polling has been done in the race since February, it appears Cicilline benefited significantly from running positive TV ads during the summer without any Republican opposition on the airwaves. He also faced an unorthodox campaign by Anthony Gemma rather than a more traditional challenger and is no longer weathering a drumbeat of negative headlines about Providence’s finances.
The OnMessage poll showed Cicilline’s job approval rating is in positive territory, with 46% approving of his work in Congress and 43% disapproving, but his favorability rating is still under water, with 48% of voters having an unfavorable opinion of him and 42% having a favorable opinion.
The poll showed Doherty is still unknown among a significant share of voters. He has a 45% favorable rating and 22% unfavorable rating, 26% with no opinion and 7% who haven’t heard of him. That mirrors a Democratic poll last week that found 69% of voters have an opinion of Doherty.