Post-election wake-up

Nov 7, 2012

The people, as the cliché goes, have spoken. Obama won the race that all the pollsters pretty much predicted and perhaps the hate Nate (Silver) trope is buried. In Rhode Island, voters went with Democrats and Republicans have to be licking their wounds and wondering what the future holds.

In the RI campaign for the ages, Democrat David Cicilline won an easy victory after a hard campaign against Republican Brendan Doherty, the former state police superintendent. Doherty made many mistakes in his campaign. He didn’t do a positive run of television early enough, frosted Latino voters with foolish anti-immigrant positions and never demonstrated that he had an understanding, in any manner of nuance, of the issues facing the U.S. in the 21st Century. In the end, he was another Republican candidate who believed that Congress was an entry-level job. He would have been much better had he served a term or two in the state Senate or as a mayor.

Brendan Doherty is a fine person and a stellar public servant. But he never had an answer to the question of why would a voter who cast a ballot for President Obama would then split a ticket for Doherty, who was going to become part of a Republican Congress that has been dedicated to blocking anything the president tried to do.

But the overarching problem for Doherty was the fact that he was running as a Republican in New England. He often said he wanted to be a Republican in the mold of Scott Brown, the Massachusetts senator who went down to defeat last night. If Republicans are bent on being the party of southern white male resentment and the Tea Party, their brand is doomed in New England. In Rhode Island, the results showed that voters don’t trust the GOP at the local level; in the RI House, Republicans are down to the low single digits. There was also the nasty, negative television campaign that national Republicans ran against Cicilline, with references to criminals he represented as a private defense lawyer years ago. These commercials were stupid and they appeared to have backfired against Doherty.

Cicilline also deserves credit here. He didn’t just eke out a close win; he blew Doherty out. Cicilline understood that connecting with voters on the issues they care about is more important that negativity or grandstanding and that won the day.

The other lesson we have learned from yesterday is not to take seriously anything that the talk radio people say about politics. Such crazies as John DePetro and Buddy Cianci relentlessly hyped Doherty and belittled Cicilline. And they hammered away at House Speaker Gordon Fox who won a convincing reelection on Providence’s East Side. The  38 Studios problem hurt Fox, but he addressed the issue. Besides the talk shows, the ProJo ran too many stories that were naïve and looked like their reporters didn’t understand the district. East Side voters are too smart to throw out a speaker without a reasonable alternative and the untested Mark Binder didn’t fit that.

The ProJo also endorsed Doherty. With layoffs coming in the newsroom by seniority, one wonders if the state’s largest newspaper and (still) most important news outlet is slouching towards irrelevancy. It seems like the time is approaching when the bulk of writers and editors on Fountain Street will be white people over the age of 50. The ProJo is arguably the least diverse important institution in Rhode Island and a new round of downsizing is only going to make things worse.