The great wave election of 2010 did little to reshape Rhode Island's Congressional delegation. Neither of the state's senators faced re-election and Democrats held onto both House seats, with Congressman-elect David Cicilline replacing the retiring Patrick Kennedy.
But it's a new world in Washington, with Republicans set to take control of the House and nab several more seats in the Senate come January. Below, a look at the new reality for the Rhode Island delegation — and the political prospects for all four of the pols going forward.
Representative James Langevin's breezy victories in the Democratic primary and general election put the lie, once again, to the notion that he is vulnerable come election day.
It is clear, by now, that Democratic voters are willing to excuse his pro-life position on abortion. And his failure to pass major legislation seems unlikely to fuel a voter revolt.
The departure of Kennedy, who made skillful use of a powerful name and a plum seat on the House Appropriations Committee, may increase the pressure on Langevin to produce. But no one can reasonably expect Langevin to fill Kennedy's shoes on the legislative front.
The real question, observers suggest, is whether Langevin will use his newfound position as senior Congressman to grow his political clout back home.
Until now, Kennedy was the representative who directed money to Rhode Island's rising political stars, who made the introductions in Washington. Can Langevin become a kingmaker? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain: his standing should improve in Washington. Langevin serves on the House Armed Services Committee. And the GOP tide wiped out several high-ranking Democrats on the panel, allowing him to move up the ladder.
Committee and subcommittee assignments for the new Congress are yet to be worked out. But assuming no major shake-up, Langevin is in line to be the top Democrat on the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee — a nice post for a Congressman with defense contractors like Electric Boat in and around his district.
Congressman-elect David Cicilline's victory in a hotly contested open-seat election was a showcase for his political skills: strong fundraising, solid messaging, no mistakes.
Those skills will, undoubtedly, serve him well in his first re-election bid. But he should face a friendlier environment come 2012 anyhow. The Republican surge of 2010 will probably not repeat itself, particularly if the economy perks up. President Obama will be at the top of the ticket, driving Democrats to the polls. And Cicilline, himself, will be an incumbent Congressman two years removed from the controversies of Providence City Hall
Moreover, the Rhode Island Democratic Party's get-out-the-vote effort should be stronger than this year's model. Gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio's appeal to conservatives did not gibe with the strategies of more liberal candidates like Cicilline and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts.
But in 2012, Cicilline and Whitehouse — friendly, ideologically aligned, and skilled campaigners both — should be able to field a strong operation against whoever the GOP puts up. Until then, life in Washington will have its challenges. Cicilline will be a freshman in a GOP-controlled House, making any sort of significant accomplishment a near impossibility. And the hope that he might take Kennedy's seat on the Appropriations Committee seems all but dashed.