Former Governor Donald Carcieri was slated to headline a fundraiser for Doherty, whom he appointed superintendent of state police, before a last-minute family emergency kept him away. And Carcieri's money man, Anthony Bucci, is the finance chairman for the colonel.

Moreover, it's not at all clear that activists' loyalty to Loughlin will trickle down to the typical voter. In 2002, outsider gubernatorial candidate Carcieri swamped the party favorite James S. Bennett.

Carcieri's business experience appealed to GOP voters. And Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, says the colonel's career in law enforcement will give him some leeway with conservative voters, too.

And the Doherty camp can make a strong case that his potential cross-over appeal — consorting with Democrats and independents is a necessity, after all, in a general election campaign — will overwhelm the purists' objections in the GOP primary.

But the primary electorate does tend toward the ideologically driven voter Loughlin appears to be targeting. And it could skew even further right than usual next year. That's because the conservative wing of the party, including many of Loughlin's supporters, is pushing for closed primaries going forward — only registered Republicans would be allowed to vote, no independents.

The party's central committee, as first reported on the Phoenix's "Not for Nothing" blog, is slated to vote on the matter in October. Passage is by no means assured. A two-thirds majority would be required and Smiley, the Warren town chairman, says early straw polls suggest a remarkably close vote. There is some question, moreover, about whether state law would have to be changed to allow closed primaries.

But even if the GOP primary remains open, Doherty could face some obstacles. Independents who might favor him over Loughlin in the GOP primary could be tempted to vote in the Democratic primary instead, assuming Cicilline — the lightning rod in this race — faces a strong intraparty challenge.

If there is anything discouraging about this tableau, though, Doherty does not seems all that concerned. He says he has a "calling" to continue in public service. He says he is going to surprise people with the depth of his support.

"I believe," he says, "this is my time."

Cicilline2_main
David Cicilline

'THEY'RE NOT TOUGH GUYS'

Doherty grew up in Attleboro, Massachusetts, not far from Pawtucket, one of three sons born to a dentist, Edward, and a nurse, Carol.

A Catholic, he attended Bishop Feehan High School, where he set scoring and rebounding records on the varsity basketball team and began dating a cheerleader who would one day be his wife.

His father was a big fan of heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano. And as a teenager, Doherty picked up the sport, training at Grundy's Gym in Central Falls. He still stops by to hit the bags and check on an elderly Colombian immigrant, Nelly Munoz, who lives next door.

On a recent afternoon, she broke into a broad grin when he stepped out of his SUV, beckoning him through the gate into her small yard and asking in an urgent, broken English for help with a neighborhood problem.

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