Paul Ryan and the Cicilline-Doherty Race

Not for Nothing is back from vacation. And the big news, whilst I was on the beach, was Mitt Romney's VP pick - Paul Ryan.

Ted Nesi, over at WPRI, tweets that he is working on an epic analysis of what the pick means for the Cicilline-Doherty race. His piece will, doubtless, be more thoughtful than mine. But I was pondering the question on my ride to work today and I've got a few quick thoughts:

1) The chattering class generally ascribes too much importance to vice presidential picks. And that will doubtless happen this time, too. But the Ryan pick does have a chance to alter the debate in the presidential race. And that shift could have meaningful implications for the presidential race and - by shaping the national conversation - for local races.

2) Romney picked Ryan to make the race about "big ideas" - namely the GOP push to shrink the size of government and (in theory) rein in spending. If it's unclear that the move works on a national level - Ryan's plans to trim Medicare don't play well with the public - it certainly doesn't help a Republican, like Doherty, running in an aging, Democratic-leaning state. Doherty wants the race to be about "integrity" - he's got an advantage, here, over his Democratic opponent. The more the political terrain shifts to policy - to "big ideas" - the better off Cicilline is.

3) Let's drill down a little bit more on Medicare. A WPRI poll in February gave Doherty a big lead over Cicilline among voters age 60-plus - 52 to 27 percent. That gap was never going to hold. But winning seniors by a significant margin will be key to a Doherty win. And with Medicare shrinkage (and Ryan's now-sidelined plan for Social Security privatization) front-and-center in the presidential campaign, it will make it easier for Cicilline to make the case that electing Democrats to Congress is pivotal.

Ryan's plan, of course, wouldn't impact current Medicare recipients or those who will enter the program for the next 10 years. And Doherty, himself, will surely hew a moderate line on Medicare reform. Cicilline, moreover, will have a harder time skirting these facts than he might have in the past; voters are on the lookout, now, for any sign of political manipulation by the incumbent. But broadly speaking, the focus on Medicare can only help the Congressman.

Cicilline, of course, has a primary to get through before any general election tilt. Running against a fellow Democrat, businessman Anthony Gemma, he won't get as much mileage out of the Ryan pick (though Gemma once supported privatizing Social Security).

But to the extent that Cicilline can pitch himself as an able defender against GOP extremism on Medicare and Social Security, it should help him win a few more votes from Democratic seniors, who were split evenly between Cicilline and Gemma in a May WPRI poll.

Bottom line: the Ryan pick doesn't fundamentally alter the Cicilline-Doherty race. Not by any stretch. But it does provide Cicilline a bump. His campaign has already issued a couple of statements tying Doherty to Ryan. And it has video of Doherty offering praise for Ryan at a campaign event. Reporters, no doubt, will be hearing plenty about that.

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