Thoughts as the days dwindle to hours leading to Tuesday’s election:
Presidential race. The earliest indication from a swing state will likely be New Hampshire, which is in the eastern time zone and is the only battleground state in New England. Crucial to an Obama victory is a big run up along the Connecticut River, from Keene to Hanover, then winning Concord and the Sea Coast communities. Romney must do well among conservative Democrats in Salem and Manchester and score substantially in traditional GOP areas, such as the Lakes Region and along the I-93 corridor.
- Rhode Island 1st Congressional District. This is the only Ocean State campaign being watched carefully from Woonsocket to Washington, D.C. The variables are fascinating as Brendan Doherty, the Republican, works to pull off the biggest upset in a RI U.S. House election since Ron Machtley’s 1988 defeat of Fernand St Germain.
- The three communities yours truly is watching closely are Bristol, East Providence and Pawtucket. Bristol has become the ultimate swing town, a demographic mix of old working class Rhode Island and new white-collar professionals drawn by the town’s charm, Narragansett Bay waterfront and dedication to all things historical. Bristol has old Yankees as well as a large Portuguese-American voter pool, along with a healthy income mix. Democrat David Cicilline won Bristol by about 7 percent in 2010 over Republican John Loughlin. Watch for a closer race this time around.
- East Providence is the Ohio of CD 1. A mostly Democratic community, it also sports a mélange of voting blocs, with significant Cape Verdean and Portuguese ethnic communities balanced by the wide lawns of Rumford. Cicilline carried East Providence by 16 percent in 2010. Doherty has been working it hard recently. Independent Linc Chafee’s victory in East Providence in 2010 helped him win the governorship.
- Pawtucket is a reliably Democratic city but it has many elderly Roman Catholic voters that Doherty has been wooing. Cicilline won it big in 2010. The increase in the city’s Latino population should aid the Democrat but Doherty is getting help from some of the older Irish-American families who once dominated politics in this faded textile factory city.
- David Vogel. Cicilline probably needs independent David Vogel, an articulate but little-known Providence lawyer, to siphon off 7 to 8 percent of the vote, draining anti-Cicilline voters away from supporting Doherty. If Vogel’s vote declines to make his candidacy a non-factor (as often happens to fringe candidates in close elections) Cicilline could be in for a long evening.
- Turn-out. Presidential elections generally bring out a 25 to 30 percent jump in Rhode Island voter participation. Cicilline needs these low-performing Democrats, who are very likely to cast their ballots for President Obama at the top of the ticket, to stick with him.
- The Suburbs: The communities Loughlin won last time will probably be even stronger for Doherty. This includes smaller towns such as Little Compton, Tiverton, North Smithfield, Lincoln and Smithfield, as well as vote-rich areas as Barrington, Portsmouth, Middletown and especially, Cumberland, where Doherty lives. (Cumberland has a higher vote total than Woonsocket).
- Providence. Cicilline needs to rack up a big win in Providence to soak up the suburban communities he is sure to lose. If Cicilline can match his 74 percent primary take of the vote, he is probably headed back to Washington. If his plurality is less than 8,000 to 8,500 votes, he can rent a law office and go back to defending clients.
- Ground Game. Democrats are generally better at turning out votes than Republicans in Rhode Island, so Cicilline ought to have an edge here. Whether it is big enough to blunt Doherty’s momentum won’t be known until Tuesday.
- Existential factors: Does Cicilline have a vote ceiling of say 45 or 46 percent? If so it is not because of anything he has done in Washington. It is all about, as Lady MacBeth would say, that “damned spot.’’ For Cicilline that was one word he uttered in 2010, when he was still Providence mayor and called city finances “excellent.’’ When it turned out that that wasn’t true, he just put the city in his rear-view mirror and went off to Washington. For Doherty, it is all about whether independent and less partisan voters view him as someone who is up to the challenge of reflecting New England moderate views in a Republican House dominated by Tea Partiers who could never get elected in our state. Have the relentlessly negative (and specious) Republican anti-Cicilline television spots and direct mail taken hold or backfired? Does Doherty have the intellect and grasp of issues to well represent the district, which is probably going to support Obama by a big margin? Is the Republican brand so tarnished in New England that women voters, especially, are unwilling to take a chance on Doherty?
- General Assembly races: The marquee campaign is in Providence, where House Speaker Gordon Fox is in the fight of his life with Mark Binder, an untested independent. Democrat Fox is the issue here. He is being hurt by the 38 Studios debacle and what he did or didn’t do. Still, he is the most powerful politician on Smith Hill and East Side voters know he is vital to their financially-struggling city’s future. Fox should win by 10 percent or better, but to do so he needs a strong turnout in the Mount Hope neighborhood, home to one of the nation’s oldest African-American communities and a working class bastion. Fox also needs support from the gay community in the Summit neighborhood.
- When the votes are tallied, Rhode Island’s beleaguered Republican Party will still be a tiny minority on Smith Hill. It is not likely the GOP makes any big inroads on the Democratic majority, even though Republicans may pick up seats here and there.
- Governor Chafee: The governor is spending this weekend on the campaign circuit for Obama in Virginia and Pennsylvania. This comes on the heels of his rousing endorsement of the president at the Democratic National Convention. Given his flagging poll numbers in Rhode Island, does Chafee accept a federal position or ambassadorship if Obama is reelected? If that happens, Rhode Island would have its first woman governor, as the current Lieutenant. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts of Cranston, would take over. Chafee and Roberts get along well and have similar political views. And she has been collegial in her work with Chafee, unlike General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a presumed 2014 gubernatorial aspirant.
- Election results: We will be on live here at Rhode Island Public Radio, beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday for all the local and national results from NPR. We will have Scott MacKay, Maureen Moakley and Catherine Welch in our Providence studio and reporters Ian Donnis, Flo Jonic and Kristin Gourlay in the field with the candidates. Don’t forget to tune in!