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Updated: Friday, 25 Jan 2013, 4:46 PM EST
Published : Monday, 01 Oct 2012, 5:45 PM EDT
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Congressman David Cicilline has engineered a remarkable eight-month turnaround in his re-election race against Brendan Doherty, rebounding from a 15-point deficit to take a six-point lead, according to an exclusive WPRI 12 poll released Monday evening.
The new survey of 250 likely voters in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District shows Democrat Cicilline at 44%, Republican Doherty at 38% and independent David Vogel at 6%, with 10% of voters undecided. That's a 21-point swing since the February WPRI 12 poll, when Doherty led Cicilline 49% to 34%.
"There's no question this race has gone the opposite way," WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. "Doherty's lead has evaporated. ... It's obvious the messaging that David Cicilline has been using is working - he's making this a national campaign."
The telephone interview poll with 501 likely Rhode Island voters was conducted last Wednesday through Saturday by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.38 percentage points on statewide questions and 6.2 points on questions in a congressional district.
The new WPRI 12 poll confirms survey results released by Cicilline and his Democratic allies that showed the congressman regaining his standing with voters. Doherty began airing his first attack ad of the campaign on Monday, calling attention to Cicilline's misleading statements about Providence's finances two years ago.
Cicilline campaign gets traction
Fleming said Cicilline has benefited from a number of factors: weeks of television advertising that has burnished his image and attacked Doherty, his successful primary campaign against Anthony Gemma, little discussion of his tenure as mayor of Providence and an increasingly partisan presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
"I'm surprised at how well David Cicilline has orchestrated turning this around," Fleming said. "At this point Congressman Cicilline has the advantage, so Brendan Doherty has to get voters to change their minds again."
With one in 10 voters undecided, the 1st District race is far from over; two years ago Cicilline's Republican opponent John Loughlin shaved the Democrat's lead from 19 points to six points during the month of October. But this year's electorate could be more friendly to Cicilline with Obama at the top of the ticket.
"What Brendan Doherty has to do now is turn the race back to more local issues," Fleming said. "He has to define himself not as a conservative Republican but as a moderate Republican who's not going to fall in line with the Republicans in D.C., and start talking about David Cicilline and what happened with the city of Providence."
One-third don't know Doherty
Cicilline's approval rating has improved along with his re-election prospects.
The congressman's job performance is rated excellent or good by 38% of 1st District voters, up from 22% in February, while 55% rate his performance fair or poor, down from 65% in February. Cicilline's statewide job approval rating is weaker, at 30%.
Brendan Doherty is well-liked in the 1st District: Voters' opinions of him are 46% positive and 22% negative, with the other 32% knowing too little about him to express a judgment. Doherty's favorability rating is actually slightly higher in Rhode Island's other congressional district, where 52% of voters have a positive opinion of him.
"David Cicilline has a higher negative job rating than he has a positive job rating in the 1st Congressional District," Fleming said. "Somebody with that rating you'd think would be easy to bring down. The problem for Doherty is Cicilline's kept the focus on Washington."
Doherty leads with independents
Breaking down different groups of voters, Cicilline leads by 13 points among women, by 10 points among those 60 and older, and by 12 points among union households. The incumbent has also increased his share of the vote among Democrats from 54% in February to 65% now.
Doherty is winning 84% of Republicans and has a 12-point lead over Cicilline among independents. The challenger also has a slight edge among men, and the two are running even among voters ages 40 to 59. "Brendan Doherty's opportunity is with independents and males," Fleming said. "He needs to increase that independent vote."
"It's not too late for Brendan Doherty, but he has to get his message out there," Fleming said. "He has to get some hard-hitting commercials out there. ... Their plan could be to really go heavy in October."
Among Cicilline supporters, 70% said they're voting more for Cicilline while 24% said they're voting more against Brendan Doherty. Among Doherty supporters, 62% said they're voting more for Doherty while 37% said they're voting more against Cicilline.
There is also the question of how little-known independent candidate Vogel will impact the race. Vogel is currently polling 6%. "If Doherty got Vogel's votes, this race would be dead even," Fleming said.
Majority unhappy with direction
Rhode Islanders have grown more optimistic about the state's situation over the past two years.
The poll shows 23% of likely voters think Rhode Island is moving in the right direction, up from 19% in February and a low of 12% in May 2010; 60% of likely voters still think the state is moving in the wrong direction, down from 67% in February and a high of 72% in May 2010.
Rhode Islanders' key policy concern by far is the economy and jobs, cited by 54% of voters as their most important issue. Health care was a distant second, cited by 18% of voters.
Asked whether they consider Social Security and Medicare or the national debt to be a bigger issue, the poll finds most Rhode Island voters are more concerned with the two benefit programs for senior citizens by 64% to 32%. The exception was Republicans, 61% of whom cited the national debt as the bigger issue.
Backing for gay nuptials
Same-sex marriage enjoys significant support in Rhode Island, with 56% of voters in favor of legalizing it, 36% opposed to doing so and 8% unsure. Support is strongest among Democrats (72% in favor) and voters ages 18 to 39 (64% in favor), while opposition is highest among Republicans (59% opposed) and voters 60 and older (43% opposed).
The oft-criticized General Assembly still isn't unpopular enough to make a majority "throw the bums out," as the old saying goes.
Less than half of voters - 44% - said they would vote to replace every member of the General Assembly including their own senators and representatives if they had the option, while 49% said they wouldn't vote out all state lawmakers. There is a clear partisan split: 63% of Democrats oppose replacing all lawmakers, while 61% of Republicans and 50% of independents favor doing so.
More results from the poll will be released at 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday evening, including new numbers in the presidential, U.S. Senate and 2nd Congressional District races, as well as job approval and favorability ratings for state leaders.
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the percentage of Rhode Island voters who said they're unsure whether same-sex marriage should be legal.
Copyright WPRI 12
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