From top cop to capitol hill?

Former State Police superintendent Brendan Doherty could mount a serious challenge to Congressman David Cicilline. But first he has to tame his restive GOP
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  August 17, 2011

PREPARED TO FIGHT Doherty at Grundy’s Gym.

It is hard to imagine a better Republican candidate for Rhode Island's First Congressional District than Colonel Brendan Doherty, the retired superintendent of state police.

Six-foot-four. Square jaw. As Rhode Island's top cop, he hung a sign on his door that read, simply, "No" — no favors, no special treatment.

Match him up against Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, who is not exactly the most trusted man in Rhode Island right now, and the campaign commercials practically write themselves.

If Doherty has a path to victory, though, it is rockier than it might appear. He is, after all, a political novice. He talks like a cop. He still has time to get a better grasp on the issues, but not much.

And while Cicilline, the former Providence mayor, has been damaged by news of a financial crisis in City Hall — and an almost universal belief that he covered it up while he ran for Congress last year — he is still a political professional, skilled in the arts of fundraising.

With a Democratic president atop the ticket in 2012, moreover, the incumbent can count on the party faithful to flock to the polls.

But the Democrats, however daunting, may not pose the greatest threat to Doherty's political ambitions. No, the real threat could be a Rhode Island GOP that seems determined to ditch one of its most promising Congressional candidates in memory.

John J. Loughlin II


At first blush, Doherty has the advantage over his Republican rival John J. Loughlin II, a former state representative.

It's hard to compete with the colonel's stature, after all. And Doherty is lapping his opponent in the money chase that dominates the opening phase of any campaign. The colonel took in more than $255,000 for the quarter ending June 30, setting hearts aflutter at the Republican National Committee.

Loughlin, who is serving with the Army in Iraq through the end of the year, collected $3000 during the same reporting period and ended the quarter with precisely $302.09 on hand.

If the cash contest remains lopsided come January, there will be substantial pressure on the former state representative to drop out of the race, preventing a potentially expensive and divisive primary.

But Loughlin's camp insists he is in the race to stay. And supporters are confident he will prevail in a Republican primary; one prominent GOP ally went so far as to predict he will "crush" Doherty next September.

The optimism is not as farfetched as it might sound.

Loughlin, who lost a close race to Cicilline last year, has undeniable strengths as a campaigner: he is affable, if sometimes glib; smart and seasoned; backers say he will run circles around Doherty in the debates.

And he has built a formidable network of Republican supporters; next month, in an early show of strength, 16 GOP city and town chairmen — nearly every chairman in the district — will co-sponsor a fundraiser for the former state representative.

The party activists' loyalty owes something to Loughlin's service in the legislature and long presence on the GOP fundraising and event circuit; Doherty can claim neither. But his run against Cicilline last year may be his most important asset.

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