Around the U.S, in 50 Days: Rhode Island and Connecticut

Deeply blue Rhode Island saw just enough population growth to justify its two House seats. And in a state so small, there was some controversy in redistricting as David Cicillene’s 1st District was redrawn to his benefit. It shed some rural, marginally Republican areas for other areas south of Providence. The rationale was that Providence had to be split between two districts to receive adequate attention and influence in Washington. Whatever…

In 2008, Obama enjoyed a 28 point victory. Like most states, that margin will be smaller in 2012. But, 28 points is a lot of leeway to still win by a landslide. And he will take their 4 electoral votes,

There is a Senate race as incumbent Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is up for reelection. The only declared candidate for the GOP is Barry Hinckley who describes himself as a “liberty Republican” dedicated to individual liberty, limited government and free market economics. It sounds great but whether the message resonates in Rhode Island is another question. Thus far, he has spoken at several Tea Party events and like most New England Republicans, he is pro-choice. This could be an interesting race.

Whitehouse seeks reelection under not the best of circumstances. He “enjoys” dismal approval ratings in the area of 33%. For comparative purposes, Jack Reed, the senior Senator from the state, has approval ratings of 46%. He has proven himself a polarizing figure in the Senate. While Republicans were being vilified for calling Obama a “liar,” Whitehouse was invoking images of Aryan supremacy and Nazi tactics to describe opponents of Obamacare. He also managed to cash in some stock with great financial pay offs before the credit crunch of 2008 after sitting in on meetings with Bernanke and Paulson. He will likely win regardless, but if Hinckley can even make the race close, it could be a GOP victory since it would force Democrats to invest in a race they never thought would be a problem. Whitehouse does have $2 million in the bank. But, Hinckley must have struck a cord somewhere as he has raised $300,000 in a single quarter. This may be the sleeper race of 2012. Also, there is time for others to jump into the race. Two names mentioned are Scott Adevisian, the former mayor of Warwick, and John Robitaille, who almost won the Governor’s race in 2010.

In the 2nd District, incumbent Jim Langevin should have no trouble defeating Mike Riley. Instead, most of the interest will be in the 1st District which is why the legislature tried to shore up the area. Freshman incumbent David Cicillene is considered vulnerable. Should he win his primary, as expected, there are two qualified Republicans waiting to take him on.

Cicillene’s problems are many. First, he took over a seat held by Patrick Kennedy and had, in their minds, large shoes to fill. Second, he is a freshman Democrat in a Republican controlled House. Compare that with Kennedy who sat on the powerful Appropriations Committee. Third, he has shown a flair for a failure to keep staff. And fourth, although making assurances to the contrary, his successor in the mayor’s office was left with huge deficits to deal with after Cicillene left.

Two Republicans are lining up to take him on- former state representative John Loughlin and former head of the state police Brendan Doherty. Doherty has done a better job fund raising but is a political neophyte. Because the GOP primary is generally a low turnout affair, Doherty would have to attract some independents to defeat Loughlin. Loughlin, although losing in 2010, played very well in debates against Cicillene.

In Rhode Island, a presidential election draws more voters and since there are more Democrats than Republicans, there is a decided advantage for Cicillene. Although I believe the Senate race will be closer than expected, it should be a clean sweep for the Democrats.

Redistricting had little effect on the partisan make up of the congressional districts in Connecticut and they are all safely Democratic. John Larson should win the 1st while John Courtney will take the 2nd and Rosa DeLauro the 3rd. Jim Himes will face the winner of a crowded GOP field. This is the one seat where Republicans believe they have a chance every year since they held it until 2006. The 5th is being vacated by Chris Murphy who will run for the Senate. Chris Donovan, the speaker of the Connecticut House, looks to be the frontrunner although former state representative Elizabeth Etsy and Dan Roverti are well funded and in the mix. On the GOP side, it is a three person race: 2010 candidate Justin Bernier, Mike Clark and Lisa Wilson-Foley. This can be an interesting race, as most open ones are, and may prove competitive as the GOP tries to gain a toehold in the state.

With Joe Lieberman retiring, the seat is now open. In 2010, the race between Linda McMahon and Mike Blumenthal, despite heavy media attention and tons of money, was not particularly close in the end. Chris Murphy, long considered a possible Senate candidate, sees his turn now. However, it puts him on a collision course with the equally aggressive former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz. That should make for some fireworks. Adding to the mix is state representative William Tong who maybe sees a chance to slip in while the other two battle it out.

The Republican primary will feature two heavyweights also. After losing his House seat in 2006, Chris Shays moved out of the state, but has since returned. He then announced his candidacy after meeting the requirements. He will face off against 2010 nominee Linda McMahon, she of WWF fame and the deep pockets. In hypothetical polling, if Bysiewicz prevails, she would defeat McMahon by about six points but lose to Shays by 6 points. A Murphy-Shays match up shows Murphy up by 5 points and Murphy up by 11 points over McMahon.

This is a great race featuring some political heavyweights in the state of Connecticut politics. However, both Shays and Murphy have positioned themselves sufficiently moderate enough to win over independent voters in the general election should they survive their primaries. Still, McMahon and her money- as 2010 proved- cannot be counted out. If nothing else, this is shaping up as one of those potentially close, expensive races that forces Democrats to spend where they never expected. However, I believe that in Connecticut Obama will have just enough of a coat tail effect to push Murphy over the finish line.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 203 electoral votes to 223 for GOP nominee;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: New Jersey