Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 1, 2014

Rhode Island: Gemma Draws Ire of Fellow Dems in Race Against Cicilline

Updated 4:16 p.m. | Businessman and Congressional Democratic candidate Anthony Gemma has asserted that he will support fellow Democrats Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. James Langevin, according to The Providence Journal.

“‘He is planning to vote for Senator Whitehouse’ and will back Langevin, too, said Gemma spokesman Alex Morash,” writes The Journal.

Gemma, appeared on The Buddy Cianci radio show and lashed out at those in the Rhode Island Democratic establishment who have chosen to support Cicilline over him. The exchange begins around 5:45 here.

“I’m going to be honest with you … I’m frustrated with Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse, that he has not stepped up and done what’s right for me, and his constituents are telling him in droves that I am the right candidate and know it for a fact,” he said.

“Everybody’s supporting David Cicilline, and that’s unfortunate because what is [inaudible] hurting us, tremendously, with the voters,” he added. “At least, they should have remained neutral until the primaries.”

Should he lose the primary to Cicilline, a scenario he called “unlikely,” Gemma said he would write in his own name on the ballot in the fall.

The comments have alienated many Democrats in the state. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, whom Cicilline replaced, issued a statement on the matter.

“I was deeply disappointed to see Anthony Gemma’s remarks that he does not support Senator Whitehouse, Congressman [James] Langevin and would not vote for Congressman Cicilline in the general election,” Kennedy wrote, according to local NPR affiliate WRNI.

“This is about Rhode Island, not about each candidate, and I don’t think Mr. Gemma understands this,” he added.

Also according to WRNI, Kennedy’s statement “allows the current members of RI’s congressional delegation to avoid the fray while simultaneously delivering a sharp message that will draw considerable media interest.”

The Rhode Island and Washington establishments are doubling down on Cicilline. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) traveled to the district last week to campaign for the freshman Congressman.

The case Gemma has made for his campaign is that he is more electable in the fall than Cicilline.

“He’ll lose the seat to [presumptive GOP nominee] Brendan Doherty. Everybody’s clear with that,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

He then cited two Washington-based news outlets as verifying this analysis. With the assumption Cicilline will be the nominee in the fall, Roll Call rates this race as a tossup.

Cicilline does have problems. In any normal situation, a generic Democrat would win this race handily. Cicilline, a freshman and former mayor of Providence, fell under scrutiny almost as soon as he arrived in Congress last year. Not long into his first term, it was revealed that the city faced daunting fiscal issues. He apologized in April for describing the financial situation as “excellent” when he was running for Congress.

Republicans see the 1st distinct as a top pickup opportunity. Still, national Democratic strategists project confidence that they will hold the seat if Cicilline is the nominee.

This primary is something of a rematch from 2010, when Cicilline defeated Gemma in a four-way primary. In the past, Gemma has signaled a capacity to self-fund if needed.

Gemma did not immediately return a call for comment. Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers provided the following statement to Roll Call:

“It is outrageous that Mr. Gemma would need to even think about whether or not he is supporting Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Langevin. It shouldn’t have had to take former Congressman Patrick Kennedy publicly expressing his disappointment for Mr. Gemma to recognize that these two deserve to be reelected.”

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