PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Providence Mayor David Cicilline is still way ahead of state Rep. John Loughlin in the battle to succeed U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy in Congress, but the race is much tighter among independents, our exclusive WPRI 12 poll shows.
The survey of 250 likely voters in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District finds 48 percent supporting Democrat Cicilline, giving him a 19-point lead over Republican Loughlin, who is backed by 29 percent of the electorate.
But a sizable chunk of voters – 22 percent – haven't made up their minds yet. The poll's margin of error is 6.2 percent.
"This tells me Cicilline has a commanding lead," said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming. "However, if John Loughlin can raise some money, this could – I say, could – become a competitive race."
Eyewitness News will release more results from the poll – including how Rhode Islanders feel about President Obama and U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse – during the 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts. The telephone survey was conducted last Wednesday through Sunday by Fleming & Associates.
Democrats have held the 1st District seat since 1994, and they hope to keep it in a year when Republicans are expected to make major gains nationally that could see them take back control of the House of Representatives.
With 75 percent of Democrats backing Cicilline and 72 percent of Republicans supporting Loughlin, "it's going to come down to the independents," Fleming said.
Our poll gives Cicilline a slim three-point lead over Loughlin among that crucial block of voters, well within the survey's margin of error. Both candidates said they would spend the final weeks of the campaign targeting them.
Loughlin, who was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week drumming up support among Republican donors, said he will begin running radio advertisements on Friday, with television spots to follow.
"I think, overall, people might not know who I am right now, but by Nov. 2, we're going to be looking pretty good," he said.
Loughlin also described Cicilline's double-digit lead in the overall poll as unsurprising. "In light of the fact the mayor has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last week getting his name and message out, that's a result consistent with what we'd expect," he said.
Cicilline, who defeated three other Democrats to win the nomination earlier this month, said he planned to campaign as if the poll showed the race to be tied or even gave Loughin the lead.
"Look, I'm going to continue to work to earn the votes of every single voter who is going to vote on Nov. 2, and obviously independents who are undecided are going to be an important voting bloc that I'm going to continue to reach out to and speak to," Cicilline said.
In Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District, our poll shows more than half of voters (54 percent) back incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. James Langevin over his Republican challenger, Mark Zaccaria, who's at 24 percent.
While 22 percent of 2nd District voters say they are undecided, Langevin is running stronger than Cicilline among independents, taking 43 percent to Zaccaria's 30 percent.
Repeating a question from our May poll, we also asked Rhode Island voters which of the following best shares their values: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, or the Tea Party movement?
The Tea Party movement continues to have slightly more adherents in Rhode Island than the Republican Party, with 18 percent of voters aligning themselves with the Tea Party and 15 percent sticking with the Republicans.
The Democratic Party gained four points from May as 46 percent of likely voters aligned with the party, compared with a combined 34 percent for the Tea Party and the Republicans. Twenty percent of voters were unsure.
The Tea Party even beats the Republican Party among self-identified Republicans; 45 percent of them identified with the GOP, while 48 percent picked the Tea Party. A total of 23 percent of independents identify with the Tea Party, but just 2 percent of Democrats do.
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