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Why David Cicilline rolled up a larger than expected victory

November 7, 2012

Congressman David Cicilline enjoyed a larger-than-expected victory over Republican challenger Brendan Doherty yesterday by improving his performance from 2010 in seven communities.

Cicilline won the race by slightly more than 12 points (53.1 percent vs 40.7 percent).

The results are surprising since Doherty learned some of the lessons from John Loughlin’s losing 2010 campaign, particularly the need to aggressively raise money, and because Cicilline has been buffeted by a large measure of unflattering local headlines since he landed in Congress.

In the end, though, Doherty struggled to run up the margins he needed in the Blackstone Valley and other parts of the district.

The Republican candidate’s greatest support was in conservative Smithfield, where he got 57.3 percent of the vote. Doherty also got a bit more than 55 percent of the vote — far short of what he needed to be competitive — in Lincoln, North Smithfield, and his residence of Cumberland. The former state police colonel failed to make inroads in Central Falls, Pawtucket, and East Providence, and North Providence.

Here’s a look at the seven communities where Cicilline improved his performance from 2010:

Central Falls voted 77.5 percent for Cicilline this time, compared with 73.1 percent in 2010.

East Providence voted  56.5 percent for Cicilline this time, compared with 55 percent in 2010.

Middletown voted 47.6 percent for Cicilline this time, compared 47.5 percent in 2010.

Newport voted 56.1 percent for Cicilline this time, compared 55.4 percent in 2010.

Pawtucket voted 63.8 percent for Cicilline this time, compared with 59.9 percent in 2010.

Providence voted 75.8 percent for Cicilline this time, compared with 69.2 percent in 2010.

Woonsocket voted 54.7 percent for Cicilline this time, compared with 46.1 percent in 2010.

Cicilline also duplicated his 49.4 percent of the North Providence vote from 2010.

Cicilline’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, attributes the Democrat’s wider than expected win to a series of factors, including the tide of Democratic leaning voters in the presidential election and a message that resonated across the First District. That message mostly linked Doherty with Republicans in Congress, even as Doherty asserted he would be an independent voice.

Hyers credits a strong close by the Cicilline campaign, backed by a Democratic ground game in which he says volunteers worked thousands of shifts in last seven to 10 days of the contest.

He also believes that Doherty’s advertising focus down the stretch — in which the NRCC lambasted Cicilline’s past criminal-defense work — backfired for the Republican candidate and turned off voters.

In the end, Cicilline won an easy victory — a sharp contrast from his one point lead in a recent Channel 12 poll.

Doherty’s campaign manager, Ian Prior, says Cicilline benefited from the regional groundswell of support for President Obama and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, not to mention support for the incumbent from Bill Clinton.

Prior disagrees that some of the advertising on Doherty’s behalf backfired, in part, he says, since Doherty’s internal numbers improved after the campaign used a similar line of messaging against Cicilline’s past criminal-defense work. But Prior does think a final ad run on Cicilline’s behalf by the DCCC gave the Democrat a lift.

Ultimately, Prior says, while undecided voters are usually thought to break for the challenger, they broke yesterday in favor of Cicilline.

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