Cicilline's comeback foretold

A new WPRI-TV poll shows Congressman David Cicilline up on Republican rival Brendan Doherty by six points. It is, in some respects, a remarkable turnabout from WPRI's last poll, in February, which showed Doherty up by 15 points.

"I'm surprised at how well David Cicilline has orchestrated turning this around," WPRI pollster Joe Fleming told the station. "At this point Congressman Cicilline has the advantage, so Brendan Doherty has to get voters to change their minds again."

But Cicilline's comeback potential has long been evident.

Cicilline, of course, was serving as the mayor of Providence in 2010 when he first ran for Congress. And his campaign declaration that the capital city was in "excellent" fiscal condition came back to bite him after the election.

But a little-noticed September 2011 poll commissioned by GoLocalProv, after some of the bad press around Providence's finances had simmered down, showed Cicilline rebounding. The February 2012 poll that put Doherty 15 points ahead came on the heels of another spate of bad press about the capital city budget.

That poll was bad news for the incumbent, no doubt. But as I argued at the time, the longer view suggested the Cicilline-Doherty race was fluid; that Cicilline could beat a path to victory if he could sideline the Providence issue and move to the sort of national issues that favor a Democrat in a deep-blue state.

I also argued, back in June, that the women's vote would be key to a Cicilline victory. And the WPRI poll confirms the centrality of the women's vote. Cicilline is trailing slightly among men and more broadly among independent voters. But his solid lead among women - 47-34 percent - is putting him over the top.

So, the path was there. And Cicilline has walked down it. But has he won yet? Not necessarily. His standing, as I suggested above, has much to do with the ebb and flow of the Providence finances issue. And Doherty has just launched his paid assault on that issue today, with a new ad. Can it move numbers, or is it too late? We'll see. 


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