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Analysis: Cicilline previews message against DC Republicans for 2012 campaign

December 23, 2011

You can bet that Congressman David Cicilline’s Republican opponent next November — either Brendan Doherty or John  Loughlin — will base their campaign attack on local issues and the incumbent himself. The challenger will hammer Cicilline’s trustworthiness, based on such things as his fiscal oversight of Providence and a redistricting scheme (since watered down, but still a net gain for Cicilline) that aroused the ire of the state’s senior Democratic US representative.

Watch for Cicilline to create a very different narrative — one in which he’s energetically fighting against congressional Republicans opposed to Rhode Islanders’ best interests.

Cicilline didn’t just repeatedly touch on that theme during appearances this week on WPRI-WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers and RIPR’s Political Roundtable; asked about thorny subjects, the congressman consistently steered the conversation back to his mantra. (My emphasis is added in bold for some of his key phrases in subsequent parts of this post.) 

For example, Cicilline was asked on Roundtable about the Providence Community Action Program (ProCAP), and his appointment as mayor of close political allies like Joan Badway, former Providence Democratic Party chief, and Leo Perotta, who worked for Cicilline at City Hall and on his congressional campaign.

In the course of explaining how, he said, they never told him about subsequently reported problems at ProCAP, Cicilline continued, “You know, we’re fighting hard to protect programs in Washington like LIHEAP [low-income heating assistance], to protect housing assistance, to protect community service block grant programs . . . ”

Regarding the legislatively controlled redistricting process, Cicilline — a close political ally of House Speaker Gordon Fox — claimed a questionable lack of influence.

I think it’s important to recognize, it’s not up to [Congressman] Jim [Langevin], it’s not up to me. It’s up to a set of commission[ers] . . . . Look, the most important thing we’re going to do is to keep working together for Rhode Islanders, to fight together to get Rhode Islanders to get back to work. I’ve been working hard on my manufacturing, Made in America agenda, protecting Medicare and Social Security . . .

Democrats scored a victory over House Republicans on the payroll bill Thursday. Prior to that news, Cicilline attacked how the GOP was prepared to raise taxes “on 160 million middle class families.”

Asked about DC gridlock and perceptions of a broken Congress, the Democrat eventually resumed a familiar theme: “There are big differences between the Republicans and Democrats in the House . . . .

In response to a followup on why a recent Brown poll put his approval rating at 24 percent, Cicilline talked about the bad economy and  related frustration. He went on:

[I’m] fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare, fighting to protect our investments in education, and Head Start, and so my answer is, I’m going to keep working hard every single day to earn the support of the people I have the privilege of representing . . . . There’s a real difference [between Democrats and Republicans in Congress] . . . .

It matters who Rhode Island sends to Washington, it matters what side of the aisle they sit on . . . [Republicans] are advocating for an agenda  which, just to quickly highlight, supports subsidies in the billions of dollars for big oil,  another tax cut for the millionaires and billionaires, and protecting Wall Street at the expense of the middle class, keeping in place tax breaks that are shipping American jobs overseas . . . . attacks on Medicare and Social Security, the social safety net. There are big differences.

Some observers have predicted a tough reelection fight for Ciciline, in part because of the fiscal problems that gained broader attention after he left the mayor’s office in Providence.

Still, even at 24 percent, his approval rating is far better than that of Congress as an institution. He’s got advantages as a skilled fundraiser and an energetic incumbent running in a Blue State during a presidential election.

And if Cicilline succeeds in framing his reelection fight as a referendum on Republicans in Washington, it will only help his cause.

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