Three Democrats Vie to Succeed Kennedy in R.I.

Posted May 24, 2010 at 6:24pm

The race to replace Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) in Rhode Island’s 1st district got more interesting recently when state Rep. David Segal jumped into the Democratic primary.

But Segal, a founder of the liberal blog Providence Daily Dose, is still considered the underdog in the race against two Rhode Island political powerhouses. Bill Lynch comes from a political family and is the former head of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. His brother is Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who will also be on the Democratic primary ballot as a gubernatorial candidate.

David Cicilline, who is openly gay and is considered a frontrunner in the race, has served as the mayor of Providence since 2002.

“It’s really sort of the old state political machine, which is the Lynch faction, and Mayor Cicilline’s supporters in the city of Providence,” said Wendy Schiller-Kalunian, who teaches American politics at Brown University. She added, Segal “doesn’t have a realistic chance. At this point I think he’s doing this more for visibility.”

Segal comes from the same Providence base as Cicilline. If the two were to split the vote, this could leave an opening for Lynch to clinch the nomination despite his low early fundraising total.

Segal is coming into the race late in the game and will have some serious catching up to do when it comes to fundraising. Cicilline raised a whopping $725,000 in the first quarter, though a large chunk of that was redirected from his mayoral re-election campaign.

“I’m feeling confident,” said Cicilline, who won re-election with 83 percent of the vote. “We have put together a great campaign team here in Rhode Island.”

Meanwhile, Lynch, who served as state party chairman from 1998 until February, raised $230,000 in the first quarter, $100,000 of which came from his own pocket.

While Cicilline has the early financial advantage, he is not viewed as the prohibitive frontrunner at this stage in the contest.

The 1st district, like the state in general, is heavily Democratic. President Barack Obama carried the multiethnic and demographically diverse district with 65 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential race. The east side of Providence is home to the wealthy, while the south side is considered a poorer neighborhood.

“The demographic is really mixed, that’s why there’s no clear favorite among the Democrats,” Schiller-Kalunian said. Cicilline and Lynch “are elite, both are experienced politicians and both are liberal.”

The support of organized labor could be a deciding factor in the primary. Cicilline has long battled with the local firefighters union over their contracts. In fact, the conflict got so bad that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) asked Cicilline not to attend a campaign rally in 2007 out of fear of a union picket. The six-year dispute came to an end in March, though it remains questionable whether he will garner their backing.

The winner of the September primary will face off against John Loughlin (R), Minority Whip in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Loughlin raised just less than $100,000 in the first quarter and faces an uphill battle in this Democratic district — especially considering Providence is not a cheap media market.

In early May, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) threw his support behind Loughlin and hosted a fundraiser for him.

But Loughlin’s fundraising will have to pick up considerably for him to be competitive in this district and for national Republicans to see that he has a viable path to victory.

He said in an interview that he’s confident the seat is winnable, citing the fact that the state currently has a Republican governor and that former Rep. Ronald Machtley (R) represented the district for the three terms before Kennedy won it in 1994.

“Rhode Islanders in general and voters in the first Congressional district are very independent-minded,” he said.