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Updated: Wednesday, 12 Sep 2012, 7:25 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 12 Sep 2012, 11:24 AM EDT
EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Republican Brendan Doherty kicked off the fall campaign Wednesday morning with a broadside against incumbent Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, accusing him of deceiving voters and bending the truth.
"You have shown yourself to be untrustworthy and therefore unqualified to represent the people of Rhode Island," Doherty said at a press conference in East Providence with the capital city behind him. "This election will be about issues - trust being the most important."
Doherty then ticked off a "top 10 list" of examples that he said called into question Cicilline's integrity, including his statement less than two years ago that Providence was in "excellent financial condition" and his aides' efforts to make major changes in the district's boundaries to benefit the incumbent.
Other examples included the Cicilline administration's failure to respond promptly to auditors in Providence; the high default rate at the Providence Economic Development Partnership loan program; the $75,000 bad check the city accepted from Cicilline's brother; and Treasurer Gina Raimondo's recent criticism of the congressman's honesty.
Cicilline has made clear he agrees the election will be about issues - specifically, policy differences between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. His allies think that will help the embattled first-term lawmaker prevail in Rhode Island's heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District.
"It is clear that the Doherty campaign knows that they are in an extremely tight race and are resorting to tired, vicious and personal attacks that we can expect to hear for the next eight weeks," Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers said in a statement that did not respond to any of the specific charges raised by Doherty.
Cicilline won a 32-point victory over his primary opponent Anthony Gemma on Tuesday after an extremely negative campaign that saw Gemma level allegations of voter fraud. Gemma, who did not call Cicilline to concede, said Tuesday night he expects Doherty to win the November election.
The contest is unusually competitive for a district where Democrats have a major advantage and Republicans haven't won since 1992. A February WPRI 12 poll - the most recent independent survey in the race - showed Doherty with a 15-point lead over Cicilline, but operatives on both sides say they think the race has gotten closer in the months since.
Doherty launched his first television commercial on Wednesday, a 30-second spot introducing himself to voters. The $122,470 two-week ad buy is partly funded by National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington. Cicilline is expected to strike back soon with an ad attacking Doherty for supporting Republican policies on Medicare and Social Security.
"Mr. Doherty is a Romney Republican who is on the wrong side of virtually every issue important to Rhode Islanders," Hyers said. "He wants to continue giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, is pro-life while David is pro-choice, and wants to raise the Social Security eligibility age for working men and women in our state."
Doherty sought to immunize himself from those sorts of charges at Wednesday's press conference. "I am my own man," he said. "I will go to Congress and work for one boss - the people of the 1st District of Rhode Island. Period. And that is the truth." He acknowledged in response to a question he won't vote for President Obama in November.
Doherty said he won't support legislation that alters the traditional structure of Medicare or Social Security for current retirees and those near retirement. He said he supports changes to Social Security and tax policy along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan.
Later Wednesday, Doherty proposed changing Social Security to increase benefits for some low-income and older Americans. He wants to increase the retirement age but "shift the delayed benefit to a '20-year bump' payment, which would provide increased benefits to those who have been on the program for 20 years or more." He said the idea is backed by President Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Doherty has recently opened up a financial advantage over Cicilline for the first time. As of Aug. 22, Doherty's campaign had $609,380 on hand while Cicilline's had $483,454, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Cicilline spent heavily in recent months fending off the primary challenge from Gemma.
WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said Doherty needs a two-prong strategy that attacks Cicilline's character and record in Providence while positioning himself as a moderate Republican acceptable to Democrats, while Cicilline needs to keep the focus on federal issues.
"Brendan Doherty has to be very careful," Fleming said. "If he makes [Cicilline's character] the only issue, and David Cicilline is able to shape the national issues, Brendan Doherty has some problems."
House Democrats' campaign arm, 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%.
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.
During the press conference, Doherty also acknowledged he resigned as state police superintendent last year because of a dispute with Governor Chafee over the implementation of Secure Communities, a federal immigration enforcement program. "That was a very difficult decision to make," he said.
Outside groups also began to weigh in on the race. The American Action Network, a conservative advocacy group, charged Cicilline with supporting $1.13 billion in cuts to future Medicare spending in the 1st District as part of President Obama's health care law.
Nicole Estaphan, Andrew Adamson, Walt Buteau and Tim White contributed to this report.
Copyright WPRI 12
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