PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- House Republicans are airing a TV ad in Rhode Island linking freshman Democratic Rep. David Cicilline to a child molester and a murderer he defended when he was a lawyer two decades ago.

"What do a child molester, a murderer and a violent attacker all have in common? Defense attorney David Cicilline," the narrator says in the spot sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The spot began running this week and is designed to boost GOP hopeful Brendan Doherty, the former head of the state police who is making his first run for office. It echoes an attack ad Doherty's own campaign launched last week that shows a photo of Cicilline on-screen alongside the words "rapists, pedophiles and murderers."

Nationally, Democrats are not expected to win back control of the House in Tuesday's elections. But Cicilline's seat in tiny, liberal-leaning Rhode Island would be a victory for Republicans, who haven't won a House seat representing the state since 1992. The GOP sees this year as their best shot since then, and both national parties have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads in the final week of the race.

The NRCC ad is "one of the harshest ads I've ever seen in Rhode Island politics," said former Democratic congressman Bob Weygand.

He said defense attorneys don't necessarily like their clients, but their job is to defend them, and that shouldn't reflect on them personally.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called the ad "the worst kind of gutter politics," while Cicilline Campaign Manager Eric Hyers said voters deserve a debate on the issues. The Cicilline campaign put out an ad Wednesday focusing on the Republican ads and saying Doherty "doesn't want to talk about his agenda."

Asked about the fairness of an ad attacking an attorney for defending those charged with crimes, NRCC spokesman Nat Sillin criticized Cicilline for choosing to "fight for violent criminals" over victims.

"David Cicilline chose to represent convicted child molesters and murders. He chose to make a career out of doing that," Sillin said.

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Associated Press writer Andrew Miga contributed to this report from Washington.

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