The next Scott Brown?

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 10, 2010

Democrats are also planning to cast the state representative as too conservative for the district. And Loughlin is already working up a defense. Tales of the "genetic Democrats" in his family are, of course, quite useful in this regard. But Loughlin is also doing his best to distance himself from the Republican Party tag.

He recalls advice from former Maryland Congressman and Governor Bob Ehrlich, whom he befriended while living in that state for a time: "One of the things he said is, 'the way you win as a Republican in a Democratic state is you build a good organization around an individual and don't depend on the party for really anything.'"

Loughlin, in staking out his moderate bona fides, can point to a record that defies easy caricature. He has crossed the aisle to work with Democrats on veterans' concerns. He has sided with environmentalists on some issues, earning a middling "C+" on the latest legislative report card from the Environment Council of Rhode Island. And he took heat from conservatives when he endorsed a federal bailout of troubled state-level pension systems.

"He's a Rhode Island Republican, he's not Jeff Sessions," says his sister Suzanne, referring to the conservative senator from Alabama.

But for all his moderate touches, Loughlin is, in the main, a conservative. He has been a consistent voice for tax cuts. He is pro-life. He is opposed to same-sex marriage and against the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

So he was at home, on a recent weeknight, when he made an appearance before a group of about 25 Republican Party volunteers at Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian's campaign headquarters at a strip mall off Post Road.

There were GOP stickers on a couple of windows. Support-the-troops bracelets for sale in the back. And the talk was of a recent high-profile, packed meeting of the Rhode Island Tea Party.

After some preliminaries, Loughlin took the podium and launched into his stump speech. "You may have heard of my opponent," he joked, "I can't remember his name."

"He can't either," someone in the crowd cracked, in a not-too-subtle allusion to Kennedy's troubles with addiction and mental illness.

Loughlin talked of runaway deficits and called for tax cuts. He endorsed tax credits for small businesses that invest in equipment and hire workers. Then he opened the floor to questions, offering standard Republican talking points on immigration, health care, and abortion.

When someone asked about global warming, he suggested the phenomenon may owe more to "solar cycles" than human activity. He also pointed to e-mails hacked from the server of a British university that have skeptics charging American and British scientists with conspiring to overstate the case for climate change. "Frankly, I think that the entire global warming community has a tremendous credibility problem right now," he said.

The scientific consensus, of course, is that human activity drives global warming. And the Kennedy camp could focus on these kinds of statements in arguing that Loughlin is out of the mainstream. But Democrats will undoubtedly mine his voting record and endorsement file, too.

Among the possible targets: a vote against a minimum wage hike, backing from the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, and an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund, which has also donated to his campaign.

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