PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Incumbent Democrats U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin still hold sizable leads over their Republican challengers just a week before Election Day, according to an exclusive WPRI 12 poll released Tuesday night.
The new survey of 601 likely voters in Rhode Island shows Whitehouse at 55% and Republican challenger Barry Hinckley at 33%, with 10% of voters undecided. Whitehouse, a first-term incumbent who won office in 2006, has led Hinckley by at least 22 points in all three statewide WPRI 12 polls conducted since February.
In Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District, the survey of 301 likely voters shows Langevin at 48%, Republican challenger Michael Riley at 31% and independent Abel Collins at 9%, with 10% of voters undecided. Langevin's support has softened over the last month, but there's no sign that's benefited Riley, a first-time candidate who's dumped $745,200 of his own money into his campaign.
"Jim Langevin's numbers are down - there are no groups where he is off the boards with," WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. "But he's holding enough, and the big thing is Collins is drawing 9% of the vote. That is very high for an independent, and in turn Michael Riley can't get any traction going because Mr. Collins is drawing votes away from people who don't like Jim Langevin."
The telephone interview poll with 601 likely Rhode Island voters was conducted Oct. 24 to 27 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4 percentage points on statewide questions and 5.66 points on questions in a congressional district.
Half don't know Hinckley
There was little sign of change in the U.S. Senate race despite a stronger-than-expected performance by Hinckley in last week's televised WPRI 12 debate, his first major one-to-one encounter with Whitehouse.
The race is nearly tied among independent voters, with 42% backing Whitehouse and 41% backing Hinckley, and another 14% still uncertain. Hinckley would need to win the 10% of voters who are still undecided and some of the 55% already backing Whitehouse to pull off an upset victory.
Whitehouse's job performance is rated excellent or good by 45% of voters, unchanged from last month but up from 38% last February and 33% back in January 2010. The senator gets his highest marks from self-identified Democrats and voters ages 60 and older.
"That number a couple of years ago was very bad for Sheldon Whitehouse," Fleming said. "His negative number was very high, well over 50%. This campaign has been able to change his image greatly in the state of Rhode Island. ... It's not outstanding at this point but it's a lot better than it was a couple of years ago."
Whitehouse has run weeks of television commercials burnishing his image as a champion of the middle class and a defender of Social Security and Medicare, and hasn't run any ads targeting Hinckley, which Fleming said was a sign of his campaign's confidence.
With seven days before the election, half of voters still don't know enough about Hinckley to express an opinion about him. Among those who do, 31% view him positively and 15% view him negatively. He's best-liked by Republicans and voters ages 40 to 59.
Hinckley was 67% unknown last month, "so it has improved greatly," Fleming said. "Among those who do know him, it is a 2-to-1 positive-to-negative, which is a little less than what it was before when we did it in September."
Riley's negatives on the rise
The 2nd District race still shows Langevin on track to win re-election by a clear if not overwhelming margin, with the incumbent now winning less than 50% in a three-way race against Riley and Collins.
Riley and Langevin are basically tied among independents with 34% each, as 13% of independents back Collins and 14% remain undecided. Collins also wins 12% among voters ages 18 to 39. Langevin's best groups are Democrats and women, while Riley's strongest supporters are Republicans and males.
Voters may be questioning whether Langevin has accomplished enough after 12 years in Congress, "which is the point Michael Riley has been trying to get across," Fleming said. "We're going to have to see if Michael Riley can drive it home this week and try and close the gap some more."
Langevin's job performance is rated excellent or good by 43% of voters in the 2nd District, up from 39% in September but down from 50% last February, while 11% of voters in the district say they don't know enough about their congressman to critique him.
"Jim Langevin is now on the air again with his commercials, so more people have gotten to see Jim Langevin again," Fleming said. "When you are not on the air it's hard to build up positive numbers."
Riley continues to get better-known in the 2nd District, but apparently not always in a good way. The number of voters who don't know anything about Riley fell from 63% to 47%, but about two-thirds of those who formed an opinion about him said it was negative.
"The biggest problem for these challengers is getting known with the voters of Rhode Island," Fleming said. "They are getting known, but they are getting known very late in the campaign, which is a problem."