Congressman David Cicilline has a slight edge on his Republican opponent, Brendan Doherty, 46-40, in a new poll out of Brown University.
The poll, conducted September 26-October 5, is the first to collect at least some public opinion data since the launch of Doherty's television advertising campaign on October 1 attacking Cicilline, the former Providence mayor, for his handling of the city's finances and his less-than-forthcoming declarations on those finances during the 2010 Congressional campaign.
Still, it's difficult to gauge the impact of the attack ads on the electorate.
Marion Orr, director of Brown's A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy, says the "bulk" of the surveys - perhaps 70 percent - came in an initial batch of phone calls September 26-29, before Doherty went negative. The balance of the interviews came October 4-5, a few days into Doherty's advertising campaign.
But we can say, at least, that we don't have any affirmation that the negative ads are working; Cicilline, after all, had the same six-point edge in a WPRI-TV poll that was completed just before Doherty put his spots on the air.
That ought to give the Cicilline camp some reason for optimism. And it could, in theory, dissuade outside conservative groups from buying ad time.
But the race is still quite close - within the Brown poll's 6.3 percent margin of error, in fact. Independent candidate David Vogel got 7 percent in the poll, consistent with past surveys, and a scant 7 percent of voters remained undecided.
The survey also showed strong support for a pair of ballot measures that would allow slot parlors Twin River and the Newport Grand to convert to full-scale casinos. Voters statewide favor the measures 57-31 and 56-3, respectively.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman James Langevin hold wide leads over their GOP opponents, 59-30 and 49-32, respectively.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo, both considered possible Democratic candidates for governor in 2014, remain popular among voters. Sixty-five percent of voters rate Taveras' performance excellent or good, highest in the state, and 59 percent say the same of Raimondo.
Note: This post was updated to include Orr's comments on the "bulk" of the surveys being conducted prior to Doherty's negative ad campaign.