Rhode Island's 1st district is heavily Democratic, but Cicilline was dragged down by allegations of financial mismanagement during his time as mayor of Providence. Opponents claimed he covered up the city's dire fiscal situation during his first run for the congressional seat. 

Republicans believed Cicilline was vulnerable and launched a series of tough ads, including one accusing him of having ties to murderers and child molesters because of his work as a criminal defense attorney. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called the ad "gutter politics."