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.
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.
In Rhode Island's Second District, long a Democratic stronghold, the Democratic primary may be a tougher race than the general election. Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin, in office for nine years, has won all four of his reelections with over 70 percent of the vote. If he wants to repeat that success in November, he will first have to defeat his two opponents on the primary ballot--Betsy Dennigan, a nurse and attorney, and Ernie Greco, a political science professor. In the August Brown University poll, Langevin had a formidable lead, with 55 percent of respondents saying they would vote for him. Twelve percent said they would support Dennigan, and 1 percent were Greco supporters and 30 percent were undecided.
According to Congressional Quarterly, Langevin is a dependably party-line Democrat, voting with his party on 99 percent of the votes that divided mainly along party lines. Dennigan's platform shows her to be a liberal Democrat, as she expresses support for a health insurance public option, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage. Greco, for his part, is more moderate than Dennigan and Langevin. He has criticized Langevin's voting record as being too liberal and has also argued against the healthcare reform package and further stimulus spending.
Of the three, Langevin has by far fared the best in the fundraising arena. Langevin has raised nearly $950,000 and still had $516,879 in the bank as of August 25. Dennigan has rasied $273,097, including $170,000 from her own pocket. She has spent much of this in her fight to defeat Langevin, with less than $80,000 in her coffers according to her latest filing. There are no FEC fundraising reports available for Greco's campaign.
Among the four candidates in the Republican primary, business consultant Mark Zaccaria may be most familiar to voters. Zaccaria faced Langevin in the 2008 general election and is hoping to fare better this November if he makes it past Tuesday's race. He is facing a tough challenge from former business executive Bill Clegg, who leads in fundraising with $140,000, including $90,000 that he loaned to the campaign himself.
Zaccaria has taken in only $20,000 less than Clegg, with $118,000 in receipts, but has spent far more of his money: as of August 25, he only had $15,000 in his campaign account, compared to Clegg's $97,000.