David Cicilline got some good news when WPRI’s independent poll confirmed what Democratic pollsters had been saying: that he was beating challenger Brendan Doherty in opinion polling.
But the added bonus is that he got to shut up doubting ninnies like me by proving us wrong. Earlier this year, when the polling was especially bleak, I attributed him staying in the race to stubborn pride and a Democratic Party incapable of removing problematic incumbents. While there is a certain amount of ego associated with being a politician, “pride” might’ve been too strong a word. “Confidence in his own abilities,” seems more appropriate (a confidence that outstripped that of many cynics like myself). And the RI Democratic Party’s problems are endemic to political parties that have had many of their functions taken over by government (often for good reason).
It’s too soon for jubilation in the Democratic camp, but for Mr. Cicilline and his supporters (and progressives), the increasingly likely chance that a Republican won’t represent RI’s First Congressional District is a heartening sign that cooler heads have prevailed.
I’ve long said that simply being “against David Cicilline” is not enough to carry the election. Anthony Gemma proved that it was certainly not enough to win a Democratic primary. And Mr. Doherty may soon find that it’s not enough to carry a general election. This is a problem for Mr. Doherty, because when you take away the “I’m not David Cicilline” argument, what does he really have? He’ll be a Republican but not a total Republican. He’ll vote to repeal Obamacare, but only when the Republicans have something to replace it with (don’t hold your breath). The days of “maverick” Republicans are gone: Sarah Palin saw to that. See, no one trusts maverick Republicans. Republicans don’t like them because they don’t always follow party dogma. Democrats dislike them because they follow GOP dogma too often. I seem to remember a Bible passage about how a slave can’t serve two masters.
Another factor which is worth noting is that Mr. Cicilline is a damn fine campaigner. Having worked on a campaign that got our asses handed to us by his operation, I had confidence that his campaign would not slip up; a meeting with his campaign manager Eric Hyers confirmed that the campaign was likewise highly confident in their candidate. But even a good campaigner can run into problems, especially with an albatross like Providence hanging around his neck.
Except, it has not yet really turned out to be an albatross. Certainly the “excellent fiscal condition” misstatement was hammering him hard for a while. But Mr. Cicilline did his act of contrition. Mayor Angel Taveras has pulled the city away from bankruptcy while at the same time publicly supporting our embattled congressman. And then: messenger matters.
Neither Anthony Gemma nor Brendan Doherty could have been/can be convincing bearers of the Providence attack. For one, neither of them live in Providence. Neither were they Cassandras during Mr. Cicilline’s tenure in Providence. The most convincing type of person who could’ve utilized that attack would have to be an opponent from perhaps the Providence city council, who spent the last two years in a higher state office (with part of that being a run for Congress). There is not a politician who fits that description. There’s no one who fits that description.
Furthermore, the Providence argument is problematic. If you’re talking about dishonest politicians alright, but I still think it sounds a bit more cheerleader-y than dishonest. But if the implication is that the way Mr. Cicilline treated Providence’s finances is indicative of the way he’d treat the country’s finances (though a city is not really comparable to a nation for how their economies work), then you get into the deficit and how you bring that down. And everyone in Rhode Island knows the Republican solution: cut everything that doesn’t blow people/things up. I can see why Mr. Doherty is not taking that tact.
The race is by no means over as we head into the final months. I can always be wrong twice (my ardent critics will say “most of the time”). But if you were pessimistic about the chance that a progressive Democrat would retain their hold on the First Congressional District, you can smile now. A bit.