The Saturday Morning Post: Quick hits on politics & more in RINovember 3rd, 2012 at 5:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site, The Saturday Morning Post
Welcome to a special Election Weekend extended edition of my column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to email@example.com. For quick hits all week long, follow me on Twitter: @tednesi.
1. A key reason David Cicilline has come back from the political dead is that he’s won back a lot of Democrats: WPRI 12 polling shows Cicilline’s support among members of his party rose from 54% in February to 65% in September and 74% in October. That’s good, but not necessarily good enough. To put it in perspective, Barack Obama is winning 90% of Rhode Island Democrats and Sheldon Whitehouse is winning 86% of them. Cicilline is also under-performing the top of the ticket among independents (41% Obama, 40% Whitehouse, 28% Cicilline) and even Republicans (8% Obama, 13% Whitehouse, 4% Cicilline). That explains the overall results in the 1st District: 55% Obama, 59% Whitehouse, 43% Cicilline. And once you take all that in, here’s one other set of stats: Cicilline is winning 69% of Obama voters, 4% of Romney voters and 29% of presidential undecideds; Brendan Doherty is winning 15% of Obama backers, 85% of Romney supporters and 43% of presidential undecideds. Cicilline will benefit if undecided voters break for him or independent David Vogel, and he’ll suffer if they break for Doherty – or if they don’t vote mark their ballots for anyone in the congressional race.
2. The oldest cliché in politics is “it all comes down to turnout,” but it’s often true. How many Rhode Island voters will show up to the polls on Tuesday? Joe Fleming shared the historical data, which shows turnout in Rhode Island during the motor-voter era has fluctuated between a low of 61% in 2000 and 2004 and a high of 67% in 2008. Will the number of voters next week return to the 2000-2004 level, or is 2008 the new normal?
3. On Wednesday, David Cicilline will either be re-elected in a remarkable demonstration of political skill or be defeated as voters turn against a too-slick incumbent. Then what? If Cicilline wins, will Republicans ever again be able to convince anyone they can win the 1st District, considering the advantages they’d have squandered this year? GOP loyalists will credit Obama’s coattails, but it’s hard to imagine national Republicans deciding it’s worth another shot barring something dramatic. Contrariwise, if Cicilline loses will he make an attempt to win back his seat in 2014, as many defeated congressmen do? And if so, will he face a contested primary? Or will Democrats rally around him once again?
4. There’s an interesting debate happening under the radar in Southern New England surrounding at least two congressional candidates: Doherty and his fellow moderate Republican, Richard Tisei in Massachusetts. With local voters wary of the national GOP and its congressional leadership in particular, Doherty and Tisei both argue they can be a moderating influence on the increasingly conservative Republican caucus; Doherty regularly describes himself these days as a “John Chafee Republican.” (What does Linc think of that?) Others aren’t so sure. WPRO’s Andrew Gobeil pointed out to me former Congressman Christopher Shays has tried and failed to make that argument in Connecticut in recent years, and The Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham actually brought her skepticism to Tisei himself.
5. If Jim Langevin wins a three-way race with less than 50% of the vote, will Republicans see him as vulnerable in the more friendly post-redistricting terrain of the 2nd District? Would Scott Avedisian or Allan Fung, popular mayors of the district’s largest cities, ever challenge Langevin, or will well-known Republican elected officials continue to leave him alone?
6. Simon Jackman’s HuffPost Pollster model projects Mitt Romney will win 36% of the vote in Rhode Island on Tuesday, up a tick from the 35% John McCain got in 2008. (Romney was at 33% in the last two WPRI 12 polls and hasn’t campaigned here since April.) There are only three states where Jackman projects Romney will do worse: Vermont (30%), Hawaii (34%) and New York (35%). Obama is projected to get 59% in Rhode Island, down from 63% four years ago; the president was at 54% in this week’s WPRI 12 poll.
7. Say what you will about Romney, but he’s no Barry Goldwater. The GOP’s 1964 candidate won an astonishingly meager 19% of the vote in Rhode Island that year, as 315,463 Rhode Islanders voted for LBJ and only 74,615 backed Goldwater, who at least managed 39% nationally. The same year Rhode Islanders also re-elected a Republican governor, John Chafee, though the two men might as well have been in different parties. Perhaps local GOP partisans will take heart at how fast things can change: just eight years after Goldwater got demolished, Richard Nixon won Rhode Island (and every other state save Massachusetts) with 53% of the vote, and Ronald Reagan did it again when he got 52% here in 1984. George H.W. Bush put up a good showing in 1988 with 44% before the GOP vote share crashed to 29% in 1992 and 27% in 1996 thanks in part to Ross Perot. And as unpopular as George W. Bush was with many here, his share of the vote in Rhode Island actually improved from 32% to 39% during his two elections. It’s hard to imagine a Republican winning the state again unless it’s part of a huge coast-to-coast landslide a la Nixon ’72 and Reagan ’84.
8. Along the same lines, Boston Magazine’s Jason Schwartz poses an interesting question: “Why doesn’t Mitt Romney campaign in Massachusetts?” Beyond the obvious – Romney doesn’t campaign in Massachusetts because he’s going to lose in Massachusetts – Schwartz’s question highlights the perennial challenge for local Republicans. Bay State voters were at one point willing to vote for Romney: they elected him governor exactly 10 years ago this month. That’s because governors like Romney and Don Carcieri win despite the Republican label, not because of it. A presidential primary requires candidates to pledge fealty to a party platform, to play to the base, to woo all geographic corners of the nation. That forced Romney to scrap the unique personal and policy differentiators that made him (and Carcieri) palatable to an electorate made up primarily of Democrats and independents. That’s also why Brendan Doherty is having a tough time – it’s much harder to keep your distance from the national party’s damaged brand when your goal is to join the national party’s governing class.
9. Al Franken once recalled emceeing the Dukakis election night celebration in 1988: “As the polls closed in the East, the networks started delivering the bad news. Pennsylvania goes for Bush. Ohio goes for Bush. But I would just say things like, ‘Hey, we won Rhode Island! That’s good. As Rhode Island goes, so goes the nation. Right?! Huh, everybody?!’ Blank faces. Well, not blank really. There were a lot of tears.” (Franken is now, of course, the junior U.S. senator from Minnesota.)
10. Calling all Catholics: Bishop Tobin suggests after you cast your vote Tuesday you make your way to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul as he celebrates a special noon Mass. “This nonpartisan liturgical celebration is simply an effort to pray for God’s guidance and wisdom on those who are chosen to lead our nation, state and local communities,” the bishop explained. “Perhaps a little prayer will go a long way in providing some reassurance and guidance for our leaders.”
11. A seat in the United States Senate is quite valuable, as both a policy platform and the ultimate status symbol, so it’s worth taking note of how cheap Rhode Island’s Senate race has been. Sheldon Whitehouse has spent just $3.2 million on his re-election campaign since the start of last year, and Barry Hinckley has spent $1.05 million. Just next door, in the admittedly bigger and pricier state of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren has spent $35.7 million and Scott Brown has spent $29.7 million, for a combined $65 million. Yet Whitehouse will have just as much power as Brown or Warren when the Senate convenes in January, and got it at a bargain price. Whitehouse is lucky he didn’t wind up with a wealthy self-funding opponent like Bob Casey has, if for no other reason than it would have forced him to spend (and raise) significantly more cash. Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy told me a challenger with some name recognition and a profile in the state could probably have run “a very competitive campaign” for $2 million to $2.5 million, while an unknown – like Hinckley – probably needed $3.5 million to $4 million. (A related thought: now that we know what happened with 38 Studios, imagine if Carcieri had jumped in?)
12. Speaking of Hinckley, it’s been interesting this election season to see a number of Rhode Island Republicans take unorthodox positions on abortion and gay marriage while remaining vocal critics of the state’s ruling Democrats. There’s Hinckley, of course, and North Kingstown Sen. Dawson Hodgson. There’s also Barbara Ann Fenton, who made waves at the Republican National Convention by arguing for a rape/incest exemption and civil unions, and Burrillville state representative candidate Donald Fox, who backed gay marriage unequivocally during Friday’s Newsmakers debate. With about 90% of Rhode Island voters either independents or registered Democrats, and every federal-level Republican save Doherty on track to get less than 40% of the vote here, it seems an “R” is only worth an automatic 33% or so. Yet the state’s dismal economic performance and the frequent failings of its leaders could give Republicans like these four a real opening in the future – and a less conservative take on social issues could help win over centrist voters, depriving Democrats of a wedge issue. Recall the way Catherine Terry Taylor nearly defeated Ralph Mollis in 2010 when she ran for secretary of state as a John Chafee Republican on a reform platform – there’s an opening there.
13. Attention, Central Falls! I’ll be moderating two mayoral forums this Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., sponsored by Common Cause RI, Leadership Rhode Island, and Progreso Latino. Full details here.
14. Read Brendan Nyhan on pundits versus probabilities: ”Unfortunately, [Nate] Silver has become the target of a vitriolic backlash from innumerate pundits whose market dominance is under threat.”
15. This campaign season we tried something new on Newsmakers – General Assembly candidate debates. I asked Tim White, who’s the executive producer of the show as well as its host, to explain why he did them and how he thought the experiment went:
The basic thinking was this: the legislature is the most powerful government institution in Rhode Island, yet it’s often overshadowed by the marquee races further up the ticket. We decided to host a series of debates for legislative races we identified as high-profile or competitive. We started with three primary debates, two for districts where the primary winner would be unopposed in November, and one other in the hotly contested Petrarca-Costantino race (which was the most memorable). Our fear was there wouldn’t be much interest because each district has such a small electorate, but we wound up getting tremendous feedback – viewers told us it was a valuable window into the General Assembly as a whole. We added two more debates during the general election, including one between House Speaker Gordon Fox and independent challenger Mark Binder. The bottom line was the experiment worked: state legislators can expect the debates to return in 2014.
Tim adds: “During this cycle, WPRI 12 hosted nine debates in all – three of them live during prime time – and conducted six public opinion polls. That was on top of our daily campaign coverage and having the top political blog in the state. (I’ve heard it’s called Nesi’s Notes, though I’ve never heard of it.) I think come Nov. 7 everyone here will feel enormously satisfied about the quantity and quality of our political coverage this year – exhausted, but satisfied.” Here’s a link, wise guy.
16. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – a House District 47 debate between Democratic Rep. Cale Keable and Republican challenger Donald Fox. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – Roger Williams University president Donald Farish. Watch Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning – and stick with WPRI 12 and WPRI.com for all your #RI2012 election coverage Tuesday night.
An earlier version of this column incorrectly suggested Barbara Ann Fenton is pro-choice and pro-gay-marriage; Fenton is pro-life except in cases of rape or incest and is not for gay marriage, but thinks the government should recognize civil unions and leave marriage to churches.
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