PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Freshman Democratic Rep. David Cicilline held off first-time Republican candidate Brendan Doherty in Tuesday’s election, notching an easier-than-expected victory against the former head of the state police.
Republicans believed they had their best shot in two decades at winning a U.S. House seat from the heavily Democratic state, and both national parties poured money into TV attack ads, making for one of the ugliest races in Rhode Island in years. The last time a Republican was elected to the House from Rhode Island was in 1992.
But with 91 percent of precincts reporting, Cicilline had 52 percent to Doherty’s 42 percent in preliminary returns late Tuesday. Cicilline, 51, thanked voters and volunteers in a victory speech before a jubilant crowd in Providence.
‘‘Thank you for the honor you have given to me,’’ he said. ‘‘I promise all Rhode Islanders that the fight that you saw in this campaign is the same fight that I will bring to Washington.’’
In a brief concession speech at the state Republican Party’s post-election gathering, Doherty, 53, of Cumberland, thanked supporters for their work.
‘‘I have no regrets,’’ he said, before quickly leaving the stage.
In the 2nd Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin handily won a seventh term in office, holding off a challenge from deep-pocketed Republican investment adviser Michael Riley. Riley lent his campaign more than $600,000. Langevin is the only quadriplegic in Congress.
Statewide, voters handed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse an easy victory in his race against Republican Barry Hinckley. Whitehouse, 51, won a second term against Hinckley, a businessman and political newcomer. Both men are from Newport.
In the 1st District, much of the race focused on Cicilline’s time as mayor of Providence, which he led for eight years until being elected to Congress in 2010. During the 2010 election, Cicilline said Providence was in excellent financial condition, but that turned out to be untrue, with his successor announcing soon after he took office that the city faced a $110 million deficit. Doherty, whose campaign motto is ‘‘uncommon integrity,’’ has called Cicilline a liar.
In recent weeks, Doherty and his party shifted focus further back to Cicilline’s time as a criminal defense attorney. Doherty and national GOP ads attacked Cicilline for representing a child molester and murderer in the 1980s and 1990s.
Cicilline criticized Republicans in Congress for efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to weaken Medicare. He argued that electing Doherty would allow them to pursue that agenda. He survived a bruising Democratic primary with businessman Anthony Gemma in September and entered the general election with less money than Doherty to wage the general election campaign.
Lisa Harden, a Democrat, said keeping the Affordable Care Act in place is important to her, and she voted for Cicilline.
Doherty is ‘‘a Republican, and he’s going to follow the other Republicans,’’ she said. ‘‘Cicilline hasn’t done a bad job. He hasn’t done a great job, but he hasn’t done a bad job.’’
Michelle Robillard, 49, of Lincoln said she voted for Cicilline because she knows where he stands and because Doherty is untested.
‘‘The unknown is always scarier than the known,’’ she said.
Lincoln voter Richard Olobri, 62, an independent, said he voted for Doherty because the Republican seems like less of a politician than Cicilline.
‘‘I have a whole lot more respect for Doherty,’’ Olobri said. ‘‘He’s fresh. He’s not a politician. I think he'll be a lot more straightforward and more independent.’’
In East Providence, Christopher Smith, 32, who is unaffiliated, said he didn’t like either candidate and might vote for independent David Vogel.
‘‘They've just been bickering about who represented criminals and who drove the city into debt. Probably more the economy than anything Cicilline did,’’ he said.
The 1st District covers much of the eastern and northern parts of the state.
Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed to this report.
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