Republicans have a long list of pick up opportunities for Senate seats next year but it doesn't look like Rhode Island will be one of them. Sheldon Whitehouse has solid approval numbers and a double digit lead over a bevy of potential GOP opponents.
49% of voters approve of the job Whitehouse is doing to 38% who disapprove. He's in very solid standing with the Democratic base at 72% approval to 11% unhappy with his job performance. He doesn't have much crossover support from Republicans at 12% approval to 77% disapproval, but that's not too big of a problem for him because there basically are no GOP voters in the state- only 14% of the respondents on this poll. Perhaps a little more worrisome for Whitehouse is his upside down numbers with independents, which are the largest voting bloc in the state and give him only a 40% approval to 50% who disapprove. But his good numbers within his own party still outweigh that.
The strongest potential candidate against Whitehouse is Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. A plurality of voters- 47%- don't know enough about Avedisian to have formed an opinion but with those who have he is quite popular. 36% have a favorable opinion of him to only 17% with a negative one and he shows roughly equal levels of popularity across party lines. He's at 38/15 with Republicans, 37/17 with independents, and 35/17 with Democrats. Nevertheless he trails Whitehouse 47-37 in a head to head. Avedisian actually leads Whitehouse by 15 points with independents and largely locks up the GOP vote at 76/10. But despite his relative popularity with Democrats only 13% of them are actually willing to vote for Avedisian over Whitehouse and if you want to win as a Republican in Rhode Island you're either a) going to have to win the independents on a magnitude of something closer to 30 points or b) win something along the lines of 20-25% of the Democratic vote. Avedisian does neither and that's why Whitehouse has the early 10 point edge.
Former Governor Don Carcieri actually proved to be the weakest candidate tested against Whitehouse on this poll. By the time he left office Carcieri was not terribly popular with only 41% of voters in the state holding a favorable opinion of him to 49% with an unfavorable one. That drop is largely because he saw a significant decline in his popularity with independents over the course of his second term. Exit polls showed him getting 62% of their votes in 2006, but now only 48% of them express a favorable opinion of him. In a head to head with Whitehouse Carcieri trails 54-37, as Whitehouse actually picks up a larger share of the Democratic vote (82%) than Carcieri does of the Republican vote (80%) and holds Carcieri to only a two point lead with independents.
After Avedisian, 2010 GOP Gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille would be the second strongest candidate against Whitehouse, trailing by a 49-38 margin. Robitaille made a generally positive impression on the state's voters last year, and 40% have a favorable opinion of him now compared to 25% with an unfavorable one. But he runs into some of the same problems as Avedisian in a potential Senate bid, winning independents by a not nearly enough 6 points and picking up only 17% of the Democratic vote. His personal favorability numbers are such that he could be a formidable candidate for something further down the line, but probably not the Senate next year.
We also tested John Loughlin, who ran for the House last year, and found him trailing Whitehouse 51-34.
Whitehouse's leads aren't completely insurmountable but he's in a solid enough position that this looks like a second tier pick up opportunity for the GOP at best.
Full results here