While Republicans continue to struggle to find a viable candidate to challenge Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, new polling released Wednesday reveals that Rhode Island’s junior Senator holds no less than a double-digit lead over a handful of potential candidates.
But the Senator’s 40 percent approval rating among independents, the Ocean State’s largest voting bloc, suggests that Whitehouse’s political strength is not impenetrable. And the capital city’s former mayor Buddy Cianci, a felon who now hosts a popular talk radio program, could make things interesting in 2012.
“Republicans have a long list of pick up opportunities for Senate seats next year but it doesn't look like Rhode Island will be one of them,” PPP pollster Tom Jensen wrote Wednesday in PPP’s blog. “Sheldon Whitehouse has solid approval numbers and a double digit lead over a bevy of potential GOP opponents.”
The GOP’s strongest potential candidate, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, trailed 47 percent to 37 percent in a hypothetical matchup with 16 percent undecided. PPP surveyed 544 Rhode Island voters Feb. 16-22. The poll had a 4.2-point margin of error.
While Avedisian may be the strongest and told Roll Call on Tuesday that he is giving a Senate run “a thought,” he admitted having devoted very little effort to a potential candidacy.
Avedisian said he has not been in touch with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, conducted any polling or begun a federal fundraising effort. He reported $71,000 in his state campaign account, which is not transferable to a federal account, at the end of December.
PPP also tested Whitehouse against ex-Gov. Donald Carcieri (R), a wealthy former businessman who has spent much of the year so far with family in Florida. Whitehouse led Carcieri 54 percent to 37 percent.
And just to make things interesting, the polling firm tested the effect of a Cianci candidacy. The former Providence mayor served in federal prison for running a criminal enterprise out of city hall during his tenure as mayor. He was released in 2007 and completed two years of parole in the summer of 2009.
In a head-to-head matchup as a Republican, Cianci trails Whitehouse 51 percent to 35 percent — roughly the same as Carcieri. But should he run as an independent third-party canidate, a designation he now holds, Cianci could muddy the waters for Whitehouse.
Specifically, in a three-way race involving Carcieri and Cianci, Whitehouse earned 43 percent to 31 percent for the former governor and 22 percent for the convicted felon former mayor.
Cianci, by the way, briefly considered running for Congress in 2010 but has not suggested that he’s interested in challenging Whitehouse.
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