I think I know the reasons why former State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty felt he had to announce his candidacy for the 1st Congressional District seat last week, but I still think it was an error.
There is the traditional politician’s motive: stake out the territory. The same way a dog will pee around the perimeter of his yard to let the other dogs know that is his turf, politicians like to stake their claim to run for an office to make others, particularly those from their own party, think twice about intruding.
Then there is the motive that is never very far away from politics: money. If Doherty expects people to donate significant money to his campaign, he has to convince them that he is a serious candidate who really intends to run. Kicking in $50 grand of his own money shows that he is not only serious about running, but he also has some of his own skin in the game.
Another political factor that can’t be ignored is name recognition. Doherty is not an unknown, particularly among the political class, but his name isn’t exactly a household word, either.
One more: Republican political talent isn’t exactly plentiful around Rhode Island, and John Loughlin, who came close (but not that close) to beating Cicilline a few months ago has already made it clear that he wants a second shot at the former Providence mayor, who has been beaten bloody, not by his performance in Congress, which it is too soon to even measure at this point, but by the condition he left the capital city in when he made his run for the door, I mean, for Congress. So there are at least two candidates who are going to be looking for consultants, fundraisers, and other political pros who make campaigns work. Some of those folks have to be nailed down early and they, too, don’t want to be left at the altar by a candidate who decides not to run.
Those are all good, solid reasons. But they might not be the right reasons for Doherty to make the decision he did.
For one thing, it’s too darn early. Good grief, it’s only been about 140 days since Cicilline was inaugurated (that’s an estimate, I didn’t really count, so please don’t send e-mails correcting my arithmetic). Announcing now makes Doherty look too eager — not like a man of integrity and ethics who just wants to do the right thing for his state and for his country, but like an ambitious pol who can’t wait to punch his ticket to D.C.
Doherty had enough name recognition to hold off for a little bit and sustain the glow he got for retiring as the resolute and upright leader of one of the top law enforcement agencies in the country. He should have let that last a little. Let people continue to talk about him like he is one of the last repositories of rectitude and grit and doing the right thing in a state that is forever beating itself up (often too harshly) over the foibles of its elected leaders.
You will notice that every one of the good reasons for Doherty to announce now that I listed above were political. They are what a good politician would do.
But Doherty doesn’t want to paint himself as a politician. That is exactly the opposite of what he wants to do. He wants to set himself apart from the politicians. He is not going to be what they are. He is going to be different. He is going to be the anti-pol.
Doherty wants to use all the Dudley Do-Right props he earned in all those years on the State Police and bring them to bear on our body politic. But he won’t be able to do that if people start seeing him as a politician. Like the old saying goes, if you lie down with dogs, you’re going to get up with fleas.
It is 16 months before the 2012 Republican primary (I counted this time). That is a long time to be active in politics and keep people thinking of you in terms of integrity and uprightness. If nothing else, Doherty makes himself a target for smart-ass newspaper columnists.
You only get to lose your political virginity once, and Doherty gave his up way early.
One more reason why Doherty’s announcement was premature: His only opponent so far for the GOP nomination, the aforementioned John Loughlin, is right now preparing to deploy to Iraq with the U.S. Army. Loughlin retired from the Army reserves in 2004, but accepted the call to go to Baghdad for most of the rest of this year.
Doherty’s early announcement could be seen as an attempt to steal the political march from Loughlin before Johnny can come marching home. Is that a fair criticism? Probably not, but that won’t stop it from being made.
Republicans have their best shot to take the 1st District Congressional seat since Ron Machtley won it way back in 1989, but they can’t take it for granted. Yes, Cicilline is damaged by the horrendous financial shape he left Providence in, but November 2012 is a long way away.
Cicilline could pull off some legislative victories between now and then, or Congressional Republicans could damage themselves with misguided plans and proposals, like the one — since quietly dropped — to turn Medicare into a voucher program. That part of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget lasted only for a few weeks, but it is destined to live on throughout the coming congressional campaign in states across the country.
A bloody battle between Doherty and Loughlin for the Republican nomination could hamper either one in the general election campaign and 2012 is a presidential election year in deep blue Rhode Island.
We got at taste of what is to come in Democratic Party Chairman Ed Pacheco’s statement in response to Doherty’s announcement.
“While Brendan Doherty and John Loughlin are going to fight it out to see who can pander more to the right wing of the Republican Party, Congressman Cicilline is busy doing the job he was elected to do on behalf of Rhode Islanders in the First Congressional District.
“The Congressman has been a strong voice for Rhode Island, fighting to protect seniors’ benefits and create good paying manufacturing jobs. Both Doherty and Loughlin would be nothing more than another ‘yes’ vote for a Republican agenda to protect special interests at the expense of working families and seniors.”
For good or ill, Doherty’s trooper hat has now been tossed into the ring and watching how it plays out will be one of the more interesting and perhaps entertaining features of the 2012 election race.