Patrick Kennedy Retirement Spurs Heated Primary to Succeed Him in Rhode Island

The GOP primary has drawn attention from some national Republicans.

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Predictions are flying about the likelihood of the House and Senate changing party hands in November's midterm elections. But before parties can plan their agendas for the next congressional session, their candidates first have to make it through their primaries. After Tuesday, the last big day of the 2010 primary season, nearly all of the nominees for the general election will be chosen. Altogether, voters in seven states plus the District of Columbia will on Tuesday finalize their November ballots for 61 House seats, six Senate seats, and six gubernatorial races. Only the Hawaii primary and a House runoff primary in Louisiana will remain after this.


In Rhode Island's First District, the retirement of Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy has opened the way for six candidates who hope to take his place in the 112th Congress.

The Democratic field for Tuesday's primary is heavy with political experience. David Segal, who founded voting rights organization FairVote, has at age 30 already served for four years on the Providence City Council and four years as a state representative. Attorney Bill Lynch was the chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party for 12 years. David Cicilline has been mayor of Providence for nearly eight years. Rounding out the field is businessman Anthony Gemma, who is new on the political scene.

An August poll by Brown University showed Cicilline leading among the four Democrats, with the support of 32 percent of likely primary voters. Lynch was next, with 15 percent, followed by Gemma with 11 percent, and Segal with 5 percent. However, the 35 percent of respondents who were undecided, not to mention the poll's 7.4-percent margin of error, suggest that it may be too soon to tell who will come out on top.

Cicilline also leads in fundraising, with $1.4 million in receipts. Gemma, the next most successful fundraiser, is behind by nearly $1 million, having taken in $445,000 this cycle. He has used this money to purchase a series of negative advertisements that accuse Cicilline of being "quite possibly the most ineffective mayor in [Providence's] history." In keeping with this aggressive campaign ethic, Gemma has also appealed to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to ask Cicilline to end his campaign, citing "unscrupulous practices" and alleging that the city of Providence overpaid Cicilline by $20,000 over the last four years. Cicilline has promised to refund any overpayment.

While the seat is expected to remain in Democratic hands after the election, Republicans are hoping to capitalize on the discord among the Democratic candidates. The Republican field features two candidates, Kara Russo and John Loughlin. Loughlin, the Rhode Island House minority whip, is considered the frontrunner, with the preponderance of financial support, political experience, and the support of establishment Republicans. Loughlin held a fundraiser with Arizona Sen. John McCain, for example, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has expressed his support. The assistance seems to have helped, as Loughlin has raised over $470,000 thus far. Loughlin has used this money to hire the consulting team that helped Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown to victory in the special election to fill the seat vacated when Ted Kennedy passed away earlier this year.

Loughlin has been highlighting economic issues in his campaign, emphasizing that he wants to lower taxes and cut "excessive" government regulation of businesses. Russo, on the other hand, often highlights her socially conservative viewpoints in debates. She describes herself as "strongly pro-life and pro-family," and her campaign Web site says that she produces prolife television shows across the state of Rhode Island. She has not devoted her full attention to her congressional campaign, as she is also running for lieutenant governor of Rhode Island. She has no fundraising reports available from the Federal Election Commission, which suggests that her money totals may be minimal--candidates are not required to file reports until their campaigns have raised $5,000 or more.