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Updated: Monday, 27 Feb 2012, 7:09 PM EST
Published : Monday, 27 Feb 2012, 5:45 PM EST
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Congressman David Cicilline is headed for a double-digit defeat at the hands of Republican Brendan Doherty unless he finds a way to win back a large number of voters by November, according to an exclusive WPRI 12 poll released Monday evening.
The new survey of 250 registered voters in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District shows Doherty, a former state police superintendent, would defeat Cicilline 49% to 34%, with 16% of voters undecided. Doherty's lead over Cicilline has grown by two points since the last WPRI 12 poll in May.
Cicilline is losing to Doherty among every subgroup of voters except self-identified Democrats and those ages 18 to 39. "He's moved the needle, but unfortunately for him in the wrong direction," WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. "Clearly, whatever he's tried to turn it around hasn't worked to this point."
Anthony Gemma, who says he'll decide soon whether to challenge Cicilline in the Democratic primary, would also face an uphill battle. The survey gives the Republican a 13-point lead, with Doherty getting 41% to Gemma's 28%. But 27% of voters are undecided in that matchup, far more than in the Cicilline-Doherty race.
The telephone interview poll was conducted last Monday through Thursday by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 6.2 percentage points.
Cicilline's share of the vote is down 17 points from the 51% he won in 2010 to succeed Patrick Kennedy. The new poll shows a slight deterioration in his poll numbers since last May, as the former mayor has been dogged by questions about whether he told voters the truth about Providence's financial situation during the last campaign.
"These are numbers he has to move and move quickly in order to be positioned for re-election," Fleming said. "He needs to come up with a method to rebound from his problems in Providence."
Cicilline sees fight; others encouraged
The poll shows 65% of registered voters in the 1st District have an unfavorable view of Cicilline's job performance, while 22% have a favorable view and 13% don't know. The congressman made no effort to sugarcoat the numbers, but suggested they're a product of Washington gridlock as much as Providence's troubles.
"I don't think there's any question that I recognize that this campaign is going to be a tough one," Cicilline told WPRI.com. He added: "This is a fight worth having. It's not about me, it's not about any of the candidates - this is a fight about the future of our country and who we want in Washington."
Asked whether he has considered stepping aside so a Democrat with better public standing can run for his seat, Cicilline said flatly: "No."
Cicilline also defended his stewardship of Providence. "The work we did over the eight years I was mayor allowed us, I think, to navigate through some really difficult economic times," he said. "I think the work we did in those years put us in an excellent position to get through those years."
Doherty told WPRI.com he was "encouraged" by the numbers but said the campaign is still only "in around the second or third inning."
"People are fed up with politics as usual," he said. "Congress has about a 10% approval rating. That's despicable. We need people to have more faith in Congress and more faith in our elected officials."
Gemma still won't say whether he'll enter the primary against Cicilline but promised to make a decision soon, saying he waited too long to jump in in 2010. He said he was pleased with the poll results despite trailing Doherty by double-digits.
"Mr. Doherty has been running for just under a year now," Gemma said. "I'm not announced, not in the field working hard, calling those constituents. Frankly, he's been out so long I think those numbers should be higher for him."
Cicilline may target seniors, Dems
Rhode Islanders remain in a grim mood.
The poll shows 67% of voters think the state is moving in the wrong direction against just 19% who think it's moving in the right direction - though that's up from only 12% back in May 2010. Congressman Jim Langevin's job performance rating in his 2nd District is 50% favorable and 40% unfavorable.
The new WPRI 12 poll is the first of the year and was conducted based on the new legislative boundaries approved by the General Assembly this month to account for population shifts reported in the 2010 Census.
Langevin attacked Cicilline during the redistricting process for pushing a proposed map that would have made major changes to their districts in order to better position himself politically. The final map moved Republican-leaning Burrillville out of the 1st District and gave Cicilline some Democratic-leaning sections of Providence.
In the 1st District race, Doherty holds a wide lead over Cicilline among males but a smaller advantage among females. The incumbent Democrat is trailing Doherty among voters 60 and older by 26 points, which is one reason Fleming expects Cicilline to make Social Security and Medicare the core of his campaign.
The poll shows only 54% of Democrats are choosing Cicilline over Doherty. "That's a group, again, he could move," Fleming said. "He could talk about how if the Democrats are going to have a majority there'll be a Democratic [U.S. House] speaker versus a Republican speaker. There is a path to help his numbers move."
Fleming credited Doherty with running an effective campaign so far, noting he has raised nearly as much money as Cicilline. Still, he said, the poll likely reflects "weakness for David Cicilline [more] than strength for Brendan Doherty. I have to believe it's a lot of people who really have a problem with David Cicilline at this point."
As for Doherty and Gemma, "neither one of these people is really a household name in the 1st Congressional District," Fleming said. "That could be a wide-open race at this time, but again, Doherty is still holding a 13-point lead in this race."
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