I have been following the Senate race in my home State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations since last December, when I asked you to meet Barry Hinckley, the guy who can take down Sheldon Whitehouse

I wrote at the time: “The Senate seat in Rhode Island could be the shocker of 2012.”

Since that time I have noted Whitehouse’s personal unpopularity, as well as the huge PAC money flowing to Whitehouse.  I predicted long ago that the race would tighten as we got closer to the election.

Hinckley has been working hard and starting a few weeks ago began negative television advertising against Whitehouse:

This poll just released by the respected Republican pollster McLaughlin  & Associates puts the race in single digit territory:

Is Rhode Island’s quiet U.S. Senate race getting tighter? One Republican pollster thinks so.

A survey conducted Oct. 11 by GOP polling firm McLaughlin & Associates [pdf] shows Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse at 49% and Republican Barry Hinckley at 41%, with 10% of voters undecided. The telephone interview poll of 300 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 points.

The 8-point gap between Whitehouse and Hinckley in the McLaughlin poll is much closer than in recent polls from WPRI 12, which had Hinckley down 26 points, and Brown University, which showed the Republican trailing by 29 points. Hinckley was 16 points behind Whitehouse in a July 18 McLaughlin poll.

Here’s the key finding in the poll:

Since the time of our last survey in July, Barry Hinckley has made significant gains in name recognition as well as increased his favorable among voters in Rhode Island. At the same time, Incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse has seen a drop in his favorables and an increase in his unfavorable rating.

The breaking point in the 2010 Massachusetts Senate race was when Rasmussen showed Scott Brown down by only 9 points less than three weeks out from the election.  It was at that moment people began to realize the impossible was possible.

It may that we’re seeing a Romney down ticket bounce, the effect of Hinckley’s negative advertising, or just a natural tightening.  Regardless, pay attention to this race.

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