The next Scott Brown?

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 10, 2010

Loughlin has also received money from Freedom's Defense Fund, a political action committee (PAC) that favors conservative Republicans like Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and has warned the GOP against moving to the middle.


OBSTACLES

Indeed, there is plenty of reason to be skeptical about Loughlin's chances to pull a Scott Brown in Rhode Island. Support from Tea Party types could backfire in a Democratic state. And if the GOP picks up steam across the country this fall, as expected, a larger narrative of Republican resurgence could prove something of a liability here.

"Rhode Island doesn't want to be part of a national conservative wave," says Jennifer Lawless, a former Brown University political science professor now at American University.

The national noise will join a considerable local racket over a hotly contested gubernatorial race, making it harder for Loughlin to punch through. "That's really the trick," says Giovanni Cicione, chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party. "Can we maintain that level of momentum when other races are on the radar?"

Loughlin says he is expecting little help from the Republican National Campaign Committee (RNCC), which seems likely to focus on the 30 or 40 races it deems most ripe for a pick-up.

A July visit to the RNCC headquarters in Washington was "not encouraging," he says: "You walk in there and they say, 'Well, we're really happy to meet you. Who's the guy you're running against? Patrick Kennedy? Ooh, look at the time.' "

The deep-blue color of Kennedy's district is part of the reason for the GOP's skepticism, of course. Indeed, the First Congressional District, which bends from the Blackstone Valley, through part of Providence, and down to Aquidneck Island, is slightly more Democratic than Representative James Langevin's Second Congressional District.

But there are also Kennedy's political skills to consider. The incumbent, who has raised millions for Democrats across the country, pulled in $750,000 last year and has four times as much cash on hand as Loughlin.

Despite a penchant for verbal gaffes, the Congressman has proven himself a hard-working and surprisingly disciplined campaigner in the past. His staff, observers add, runs the sort of highly effective constituent service operation that can pay dividends in a re-election effort.

Kennedy also has a record that could be useful on the campaign trail: he can point to the federal dollars he has brought home and votes to extend unemployment and health care benefits in making the case that he is the best choice for a state particularly hard hit by the Great Recession.

The WPRI-TV poll, moreover, may not be as bad as it sounds. The Congressman has always garnered middling approval ratings and faced a hardcore anti-Kennedy bloc of some 30 percent of the electorate, but he has still managed to cruise to re-election.

And the poll did not present voters with a direct Kennedy-Loughlin match-up — only asking if they would "consider another" candidate. Wavering voters are less likely to choose the other guy when the other guy has a name. And that name could become even less attractive if the Democrats succeed in hanging some baggage on it.

Kennedy has proven adept at defining his opponents in the past. Shortly after his first GOP opponent, physician Kevin Vigilante, won the Republican primary in 1994, the Democrat ran an advertisement that harped on pharmaceutical industry donations to his opponent — casting the local doctor as a tool of the special interests.

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  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Jim Langevin,  More more >
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