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Cicilline’s Unpopularity Sparks 2012 Primary Talk

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He may be among the most unpopular freshmen in the nation, but Rep. David Cicilline will run for a second term next fall in deep-blue Rhode Island with the firm backing of the Ocean State’s Democratic machine.

Already a broad coalition of key state legislators, municipal officials and Congressional allies have gathered behind the former Providence mayor, who has struggled under a rash of negative news about his handling of the capital city’s finances.

Just don’t expect Anthony Gemma to join the coalition.

The businessman who finished second in last fall’s Democratic primary hasn’t made his 2012 plans official, but he told Roll Call that he’s “very strongly considering” a rematch.

“My opinion straight up is that David Cicilline is unelectable next election cycle,” Gemma said in an interview. “If he does somehow get past the Democratic primary, the seat would be lost to Republicans.”

Gemma, an attorney perhaps best known for his family’s plumbing business, spent nearly $280,000 from his own pocket in the last election and is prepared to spend again. While he is often laughed off as an inexperienced outsider in Democratic circles, Gemma’s presence in a race that will include two relatively well-known Republicans certainly won’t help Cicilline.

“I think I’m the candidate best suited to win,” Gemma said. “What’s nice now is that I have a pretty significant base that I’m working from. I believe that I appeal to Democrats, I appeal to independents and I appeal to people from all political spectrums, even Republicans.”

Not that he’ll need to appeal to the GOP given the 1st district is among the most Democratic in the country. The GOP knows it’ll need help to win a district currently rated a D+13 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

For perspective, this would be the most Democratic district in the nation held by a Republican if either GOP candidate — John Loughlin, the unsuccessful 2010 GOP nominee, or Brendan Doherty, the former head of the state police — was able to win. No Republican holds a seat rated higher than a D+6, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Not that flukes don’t happen.

Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao won a D+25 district in 2008, ousting the ethically tarnished Rep. William Jefferson (D) in New Orleans. But that victory was short-lived, with a Democrat winning back the district in 2010.

And Democrat Nick Lampson won Texas’ 22nd, an R+13 district, after former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay stepped down and Republicans were forced to run a write-in campaign for their candidate.

Cicilline’s office referred political questions to state Democratic Party Chairman Edwin Pacheco.

“Obviously we hope there isn’t a primary,” Pacheco said when asked about Gemma’s potential effect on the race. “If there is, what I can say is that we worked very hard on behalf of David Cicilline in 2010 and the Democratic Party will continue to do that in the 2012 election.”

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