Friends and family say Loughlin, who eventually earned a degree in sociology from the State University of New York, doesn't talk much about why he signed up for the military. Loughlin says, simply, that it felt like "there was something missing" before he joined.
After a peaceful stint in Bosnia and a turn at Fort Bragg, assessing units shipping out to Iraq, he retired from the Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. But the military is still a central part of his identity and figures to play prominently in the campaign. The ring tone on Loughlin's cell phone is the Army theme song. He has a "Don't Tread On Me" bumper sticker affixed to his Crown Victoria.
Loughlin, who once served as the voice for mission control at NASA, started a production company called Media-Rite in 2004 — turning out industrial videos and commercials for corporate clients like Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, Ocean State Job Lot, and Party City.
In 2004 and 2006, he produced campaign commercials for then-Representative Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican. Somewhere across the state, his sister was working for lefty Ned Lamont's insurgent campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman.
FIT IN A PHONE BOOTH
PHOTO BY RICHARD MCCAFFREY | THE KICK-OFF Loughlin announces his bid to dethrone the last Kennedy in elected office.
Loughlin, who is married with two daughters, started his own political career in 2004 — winning an open seat previously held by Democrat William Enos that spans Tiverton, Little Compton and Portsmouth. He drew no opposition in 2006 or 2008, even as Democrats were smelling blood across the country.
Loughlin showed early signs of ambition, joining with State Representative Joseph A. Trillo to stage a failed coup against Minority Leader Robert A. Watson after a poor GOP showing in the 2006 elections.
He has since made peace with Watson and risen to minority whip, number two in command for House Republicans. "Before you get too excited, that's like being vice admiral of a canoe," Loughlin says.
It's one of a rotating collection of jokes about the size of the six-member House caucus. Loughlin also likes to say the whole crew could fit in his Crown Vic.
The GOP's impotence — exacerbated, insiders say, by Watson's abrasive (if highly entertaining) brand of combat with the Democrats — means Loughlin can claim little in the way of legislative accomplishment.
But that hasn't stopped the state representative from insisting that he has done something important. Seizing on popular concern about government spending, he points to a series of votes against state budgets that have repeatedly run into the red.
But Kennedy and his surrogates are poised to attack Loughlin's thin resume as the campaign heats up — building a contrast with an incumbent who has made a career of bringing federal dollars back to Rhode Island from his perch on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
"Loughlin has been completely ineffectual at the State House," said William Lynch, chairman of the state Democratic Party, in a recent interview, "and for him to now suggest that he's going to be more effective in Washington is ludicrous."