Democrat Rep. David Cicilline '83, D-R.I., won his re-election bid in Rhode Island's first congressional district, overcoming an aggressive challenge from former Colonel of the Rhode Island State Police Brendan Doherty. The race received national attention for its close polling numbers leading up to election night that indicated the possibility of a Republican victory in a historically Democratic district. Despite the polls showing a tight race, Cicilline won the race by a 10-point margin over Doherty as of press time.
Democrats Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. James Langevin, the incumbent representative for Rhode Island's second congressional district, also secured their re-elections early in the night. The two Democrats defeated their Republican opponents by large margins, putting an end to speculation that the GOP could pull off a major upset in Rhode Island this year. Whitehouse led Republican Barry Hinckley 65 percent to 35 percent, and Langevin garnered 55.5 percent of second district votes compared to Republican Michael Riley's 35.2 percent at press time.
Cicilline's victory marks a major turnaround from his 14.8 percent approval rating in February.
Throughout the campaign, Cicilline's opponents accused the Democrat of lying about Providence's fiscal health while he was mayor of the city in 2010; Providence Mayor Angel Taveras announced the city had a $110 million structural deficit when he succeeded Cicilline. This controversy formed the basis for Doherty's challenge to Cicilline.
In September, Cicilline overcame a divisive primary challenge from Anthony Gemma, who accused the Cicilline campaign of voter fraud. Earlier this week, Doherty announced his campaign would send 75 attorneys to polling places across the state to combat voter fraud.
The contest between Cicilline and Doherty was marked by vitriol and mudslinging, as both campaigns relied heavily on negative television advertisements and name-calling.
"I think Doherty had to face tough odds in a Democratic district, but I also think if he had been a little more forthcoming about what he planned to do as a Congressman, he might have won a few more Democrat votes," said Associate Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller, adding that candidates typically garner limited support when their campaigns are "predominantly negative."
Cicilline's campaign tried to tie Doherty to the leadership of the Republican Party, equating a vote for Doherty to a vote for presidential contender Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan. Opposing the Republican presidential nominee's proposal to partially privatize Medicare became a central part of Cicilline's platform.
Cicilline likely received a boost of support on the coattails of President Obama's re-election campaign, but even in the last week, polls showed Cicilline and Doherty neck-and-neck. An Oct. 30 WPRI poll found that the candidates were in a statistical tie.
On election night, Cicilline credited his success to the Latino community, women and young voters. Student groups at Rhode Island's colleges and universities also lent their support to the candidate in large numbers.
Cicilline told The Herald he aims to "fight for issues that are important for young people" in his next term. His areas of focus will include preserving Pell grants, increasing accessibility and affordability of higher education and creating jobs in Rhode Island for new graduates, he said.
Sheldon Whitehouse maintained a 20-point lead over challenger Barry Hinckley throughout the campaign. This will be Whitehouse's second term in the Senate.
Whitehouse promised to protect federal funding for higher education, Medicare and Social Security during his victory speech Tuesday. He said improving the economy and lowering the unemployment rate remain his main priorities.
Whitehouse told The Herald that he hopes to use this term to improve federal policies so that young people have "a country they are proud of, that looks out for their interests."
Langevin's defeat of Riley guarantees his sixth term in Congress. He will return to the House of Representatives alongside Cicilline as the congressman for Rhode Island's second district.
"I am grateful to Rhode Islanders for their support and for again putting their trust in me to fight for them," Langevin said in his victory speech Tuesday. "I will never take it for granted."