PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — National Republicans and Democrats on Friday committed big money to a last-minute TV ad blitz in Rhode Island, with Republicans making one of the largest ad buys of this election cycle in the state to support Brendan Doherty in an increasingly ugly race to unseat Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, and Democrats reacting hours later with news they'd run their own ads to respond.
Republicans see their best chance since the 1990s to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the heavily Democratic state.
Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Friday morning the group spent $280,000 to purchase a week of TV time for ads in support of Doherty, the former head of the state police, who is making his first run for political office. Sillin said the ads are scheduled to air on broadcast stations in the final week of the campaign, from Tuesday until Nov. 6.
Doherty's political director, Rob Coupe, said the buy indicates national Republicans have confidence in the race.
"They wouldn't help us at all if they didn't think we had a very solid chance of winning," he said.
Later Friday, Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, confirmed the group was making its own TV buy to support Cicilline. He would not specify on the record how much they planned to spend, but said it would be competitive with Republicans.
"We won't let Washington Republicans' lies go unanswered and will continue to hold Brendan Doherty accountable for supporting the extreme Republican agenda," he said.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than three-to-one in Rhode Island, but Doherty has gotten traction by repeatedly focusing on Cicilline's time as mayor of Providence, which he led for eight years before being elected to Congress in 2010. Doherty has called Cicilline a liar for saying the city was in excellent financial condition during the 2010 campaign. After Cicilline left office, the city announced a $110 million budget deficit. Cicilline has apologized for his word choice.
In recent days, the race has taken an ugly turn as Doherty reached back more than a decade to Cicilline's past as a lawyer. He put out a scathing TV attack ad showing a photo of Cicilline alongside the words "rapists, pedophiles and murderers" to criticize him for working to defend such criminals.
A Cicilline TV ad in response called the ad "outrageous" and sought to remind voters that Doherty would support a Republican leadership in Congress that has voted to "end Medicare as we know it." Doherty does not himself support a Republican-backed plan to hold down Medicare costs by instituting a voucher system, but Cicilline's campaign has argued that sending him to Washington would help advance the Congressional Republican agenda.
Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers said national Republicans' decision to put so much money into the race is a signal that Republican leaders want Doherty with them to strengthen their control of Congress. He called it a "red flag" to voters.
"Brendan Doherty is going to side with the Republicans and not Rhode Island families," Hyers said.
Doherty's campaign enters the final weeks of the race with more than twice as much money on hand as Cicilline's campaign. He had $328,000 as of Oct. 17, compared with Cicilline, whose campaign said he had $153,000, according to filings made with the Federal Elections Commission. Doherty has had a money edge since September, when Cicilline faced a bitter primary battle with fellow Democrat Anthony Gemma, a businessman who spent $400,000 of his own money to defeat Cicilline.
No Republican has won a race for a seat in the House from Rhode Island since 1992, when Rep. Ron Machtley was re-elected to serve a third term representing the 1st district. He ran a failed campaign for governor in 1994. Cicilline was elected in 2010 to succeed Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy.
The 1st district runs from Woonsocket in the north, through parts of Providence and along the eastern part of the state into Newport.