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Primary season is upon us. And the four Democrats vying to succeed retiring 1st District Congressman Patrick Kennedy are engaged in a particularly lively air war on television and the Interzone.

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Keeping track of the back-and-forth is no small challenge. So the Phoenix offers a guide to the ad campaigns — and a grade for each:


DAVID CICILLINE: A-

Providence mayor-turned-Congressional candidate David Cicilline has released three ads. "Jobs Now," shot at Capco Steel in Providence, touts the candidate's credentials on job creation — with a series of workers saying they owe their jobs to Cicilline's initiatives.

The message is well-tuned to the moment: Rhode Island's 12-percent unemployment rate is the fourth-highest in the country and job creation is the primary concern among an anxious electorate.

Cicilline gets less-than-perfect marks for the ad, though, since it left him with something of a public-relations headache. The ad, at one point, uses a headline focused on the city's "First Source" ordinance, which compels companies receiving tax breaks to give unemployed residents priority in hiring.

State Representative David Segal, also running for the Democratic nomination, has cried foul — saying he had to sue the Cicilline administration to compel enforcement of the "First Source" ordinance.

A second spot, "Saved," targets a senior set that votes in high numbers — featuring a series of older women recounting how the mayor protected their senior center from closure. "He's a sweetheart," says one.

Cicilline's most recent ad touts his Made in America Block Grant proposal, which would help American factories retool and retrain workers to "compete in the new economy." The spot closes with Cicilline: "I'm David Cicilline and I approved this message which was . . . made in Rhode Island," he says, with a group of workers around him joining in for the "Made in Rhode Island" bit.

The ad is sure to meet with some skepticism, given that many believe a return to industrial glory is unlikely in Rhode Island. And like his other two, it's missing some of the imaginative spark that animates the spots by rivals Segal and Bill Lynch. But its upbeat message and focus on jobs works well.


BILL LYNCH: B+

Lynch, the former party chairman, may have the best-produced ad in the campaign to date. "Judy" starts with a mock television show called "Let's Pick a Congressman" that lampoons his three competitors for the Democratic nomination.

"Blah," says Judy, an average voter watching the candidates, "isn't there anyone else?" The spot then cuts to Lynch sitting at a breakfast diner. "Like you, I'm fed up with career politicians and empty campaign promises," he says, before pledging to create jobs, protect Social Security, and fight for term limits.

"I'm Bill Lynch and I approve this message," he says, before Judy pops out from behind him and adds, "And so do I."

Lynch, who is playing catch up with Cicilline, has a lot to do with limited resources if he is going to win: discredit the frontrunner, push aside the other challengers, and get out a message of his own. And this high-production-values spot neatly checks all those boxes in 30 seconds.

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