PROVIDENCE â€” As soon as Rep. Patrick Kennedy announced he would not seek re-election in the 1st Congressional District back in February, it was clear the race to succeed him would be one of the marquee races this year.
Sure enough, four Democrats battled in a primary to win that partyâ€™s nomination and Providence Mayor David Cicilline bested a field that included former Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch, state Rep. David Segal and Lincoln businessman Anthony Gemma. Lynch, Segal and Gemma have now endorsed Cicilline.
On the Republican side, state Rep. John Loughlin handily beat his primary opponent, Kara Russo, who also lost the GOP primary for lieutenant governor.
Since then, Cicilline and Loughlin have been battling in debates, forums, press conferences and TV ads, with Independents Kenneth Capalbo and Gregory Raposa rounding out the ballot
Cicilline has consistently held strong leads in both the polls and fundraising throughout the campaign and got a last minute boost in publicity and contributions when President Barack Obama came here to stump for him.
Loughlin, though a Republican in a Democrat-dominated state, has managed to remain within striking distance, and he also benefitted from outside star power when Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who came from an obscure state senate seat in Wrentham to win the seat that had been held by Kennedyâ€™s father, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, for nearly a half-century.
â€śThis campaign has been about jobs, how do we get the Rhode Island economy and the national economy back on track,â€ť Cicilline said in a recent interview.
Part of the answer, he says, is investing in infrastructure, â€śrebuilding our roads and bridges, not only to create jobs, but just as important to create a platform for rebuilding our economy for the 21st century.
Another part is â€śthat we have to start making things again.
â€śThere is some manufacturing that we have lost that we are never going to get back again,â€ť Cicilline concedes. â€śBut there is a lot of manufacturing we still have and a lot of new manufacturing that is growing out of the new knowledge economy. And we have to position Rhode Islandâ€ť to take advantage of those opportunities.
One of the cornerstones of Cicillineâ€™s campaign is his proposal for a â€śMade In Americaâ€ť block grant, a $2 billion pool of funds that could be used to:
--- retool existing small manufacturing businesses to compete in the clean-energy and high-tech fields;
--- reorient business owners toward the new economy of medical devices, renewable energy components and the like;
--- retrain employees for the new economy and,
--- provide capital for manufacturers in the traditional economy to expand their markets at home and overseas.
A change in tax policy so that hedge fund managers would no longer have their income taxed as capital gains, but as regular wages, â€śwould more than pay for this program,â€ť Cicilline said.
Another way to pay for domestic initiatives, Cicilline said, is to bring the troops home from Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
â€śWe have spent over $400 billion in Afghanistan, we have lost more than 1,000 American heroes and I believe the best way to bring stability to that portion of the world is to force the Afghani people to take responsibility for their own civilian and military institutions. I think ultimately this will require a political solution rather than a military one.â€ť
Cicilline and Loughlin disagree on global climate change and how to best address it. Cicilline is convinced that the warming of the planet is caused principally by human activities while Loughlin acknowledges that the Earth is warming but asserts there is no scientific consensus on the cause of the phenomenon.
But if you really want to get Loughlin and Cicilline fighting, bring up Social Security.
Cicilline accuses Loughlin of wanting to privatize Social Security, something the Republican hotly denies, retorting that his Democratic opponent is â€śscaring seniors.â€ť
Loughlin notes that Cicilline supports the Obamacare, health care reforms of earlier this year, â€śwhich guts Medicare by $500 billion, if anything should scare seniors, that should.
â€śItâ€™s unfortunate he has gone down the Social Security privatization path because he knows itâ€™s not accurate, he knows it scare seniors and, frankly, itâ€™s shameful,â€ť Loughlin said. â€śMy commitment to Social Security, to ensuring that seniors get the benefits they need, is rock-solid.â€ť
Loughlin does say he wants to allow younger workers to voluntarily put a portion of the Social Security taxes taken out of their paychecks into a private fund that he says, over time, will provide a better return than Social Security, which he said grows at a rate of just 0.65 percent.
â€śItâ€™s good enough for members of Congress, they have it in their thrift savings plan, itâ€™s good enough for members of the military, itâ€™s good enough for federal workers. Itâ€™s great to paint this as putting money at risk in the stock market, but itâ€™s really not.â€ť
Loughlin confesses to â€śspeaking in hyperboleâ€ť when asked about the time he compared Social Security to â€śa Ponzi scheme.
â€śLetâ€™s face it, with a $13 trillion debt, we are literally spending money we donâ€™t have and borrowing money we can never afford to pay back, In many respects, all of Washington has become a Ponzi schemeâ€ť
Because there is no longer a Social Security Trust Fund, and all that money is in the general treasury, Loughlin maintains that it is runaway government spending that puts Social Security at risk.
Loughlin says Cicilline talks about Social Security, â€śbecause he doesnâ€™t have anything else. He bankrupted the City of Providence, heâ€™s bankrupt on ideas on how to move this country forward. Look at his record in Providence -- $70 million deficit, the unfunded pension liability on his watch went from $300 million to $1.3 billion. Naturally he doesnâ€™t want to talk about any of that.â€ť
Cicilline says the best way to support Social Security is to grow the economy.
â€śAllowing younger workers to put a portion of their Social Security savings into a private account is â€śa very bad idea. It will put the program at risk.â€ť Current Social Security calculations call for the U.S. economy to grow at a rate of 2 percent. If the economy were to grow at 3 percent, Cicilline contends, â€śSocial Security could be funded indefinitely.â€ť
Independent Kenneth Capalbo says he is the only candidate in the race who is both pro-life and anti-war.
A Vietnam veteran, Capalbo says one of his main issues in the campaign is the attack on the USS Liberty by the Israeli military in 1967 in which 34 crewmen were killed and 171 wounded.
Investigations conducted by the U.S. and Israel after the attack concluded it was an accidental attack, based on mistaken identity, but Capalbo says that isnâ€™t so.
He contends that American survivors of the incident claim that after the ship was attacked by Israeli jets and torpedoed by PT Boats, the PT Boats came within 50 feet of the Liberty and began shooting the survivors and firing into life rafts.
â€śIf the Americans are telling the truth, Israel committed a war crime against America and our government, in supporting Israelâ€™s claim of mistaken identity, betrayed the troops on the USS Liberty,â€ť Capalbo says. â€śIf the Americans on the USS Liberty are lying, they should be criminally charged with obstruction of justice, court marshaled, and have every medal they were awarded taken away.
â€śItâ€™s either one or the other,â€ť he told The Times. â€śI believe these are the only reasonable conclusions one can draw from the stipulated facts and the statements of the Americans on the USS Liberty. If there are any other reasonable conclusions one can come to, I will withdraw from this race.â€ť
Attempts to reach Independent candidate Gregory Raposa were unsuccessful.