No single issue or criticism has dominated the race between U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and newcomer Cormick B. Lynch for the 1st Congressional District seat.
Yet the veteran politician and the former Marine have no shortage of differing stances on everything from foreign policy to minimum wage hikes. Cicilline favors raising the minimum wage; Lynch maintains it isn't the government's job to set the standard. Lynch believes the United States should not leave Afghanistan until law and order has been established; Cicilline says the United States should not be building governments in foreign countries.
Cicilline, 53, is seeking his third term in the House of Representatives. He's a veteran politician, who spent eight years in the Rhode Island General Assembly and eight years as mayor of Providence.
Lynch, 29, is a Newport resident making his first run for political office. A former Marine who was deployed in Iraq in 2006 at 19 years old, Lynch said he ran in part because he believes military service does not get the respect it deserves in Washington, D.C.
The matchup between Cicilline and Lynch has been a quiet one. The two have only met for one public debate since defeating their primary opponents.
At that meeting, however, their differences were apparent as each attempted to position himself as a candidate who would support the middle class.
Cicilline referred back to party lines and said sending another Republican to represent the state in Washington is unequivocally a bad decision.
"[Manufacturing] is a central part of the economic development strategy for our state... We've got to start making things happen again," Cicilline said. One of the impediments is we have some policies in Washington right now that undermine American manufacturing, which Republicans are protecting. We give tax breaks to companies that ship American jobs overseas... That's wrong."
Lynch instead asked voters to consider whether they've been happy with Cicilline's representation the last four years.
"We have the third-highest unemployment rate in the country. While the congressman talks about preserving the middle class, the situation is there is no middle class. It's being fractured and eviscerated," Lynch said.
Two years ago, Cicilline easily fought off a challenge from Brendan P. Doherty, a former state police superintendent, who ran a well-financed campaign attacking Cicilline for Providence's poor financial position at the end of his term.
Cicilline faced criticism for saying Providence was in "excellent financial condition" during his first run for Congress in 2010. He later apologized for the statements a month after he took office. The issue, however, has been unmentioned in the current election.
Speaking about his effectiveness in a Republican-controlled Congress, Cicilline says one of his most important roles is standing up against Republican policies. Talking about his own effectiveness, he stresses that bills affecting unemployment benefits and immigration, among others, would likely have been approved if House leadership had ever agreed to take them up.
"What Republican House leadership has done... is not taken up the bill or come up with their own proposal," Cicilline said. "What's frustrating to me is we don't have to search for the answers. We've got the answers to the challenges facing us."
Lynch has no previous political experience. When he returned from Iraq, he began working as a firefighter in East Providence while pursuing a finance degree at the University of Rhode Island. A leg injury he suffered amid home renovations, however, ended his time firefighting, and he eventually pursued a finance degree full time at the University of Delaware.
He has said he believes his range of experiences makes him relatable to a range of voters, noting that he's worked on Wall Street and as a union firefighter.
So when Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee made a joke during the federation's September convention asking if anyone knew the name of Cicilline's opponent, Lynch was not pleased. The AFL-CIO endorsed Cicilline in April before Lynch announced his candidacy.
"If they were truly concerned with the rank and file, they'd realize I was a proud former member of the AFL-CIO - Local 850 IAFF," Lynch tweeted. "[This] represents exactly what's wrong. Union leadership [and] politicians benefits. People [and] rank and file workers lose."