On Politics
3:03 pm
Tue September 11, 2012

Brendan Doherty’s challenge — separating himself in voters’ minds from the national GOP

 As he tries to land a seat in Congress, Brendan Doherty needs to convince voters he’s a Republican in the moderate mold of John Chafee, Ron Machtley, and Claudine Schneider  – not such conservatives as John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor.

Doherty already has a leg up as Rhode Islanders go to the polls today to pick a Democrat in CD1. The likely winner — Congressman David Cicilline – suffers from a trust deficit due to how he handled and described Providence’s finances on the way out of City Hall in 2010.

That’s why Cicilline started trying to link Doherty to the national GOP way back in February:

National Republicans know he will be one more reliable vote for their agenda and they are throwing their support behind him.

Expect a big televised cascade of this kind of messaging as soon as tomorrow from the Cicilline camp.

Doherty will respond with his own broadcast advertising attack, probably touching on Cicilline’s time at City Hall and contrasting it with his own background as a Mob-busting state police commander. (Doherty has also slated a 10 am news conference in Riverside tomorrow to discuss the primary and the issues going forward.)

Still, even with some advantages heading into the general election, Doherty needs to convince the independents who comprise most of the electorate that he’s a particular kind of Republican.

The GOPers who have won national races in RI, after all, (like the elder Chafee, Machtley, and Schneider) have been moderates.

Ian Prior, Doherty’s campaign manager, cites Doherty’s management experience as a former state police superintendent in touting his ability to forge consensus.

Prior says Doherty views the Simpson-Bowles budget plan as “an area where Brendan is looking to start conversations,” rather, he says, with more partisan Democratic or Republican alternatives.

In a further preview of Doherty’s messaging, Prior touts Doherty as man of action who practices straight talk:

“He’s used to doing, not talking about things.”

In a not-so-subtle shot at Cicilline’s scripted tendency, Prior says, “[Doherty's] not going to stay on message when that message was not an actual answer to a question.”

Even with his low poll ratings over the last year, it would be foolish to count Cicilline out.

He’s a tireless campaigner, articulate, and very well versed in the issues. The Democrat will go the wall to maintain his seat, drawing on partisan machinery and the support of such popular party members as Angel Taveras, Gina Raimondo, and Patrick Kennedy. And of course, President Obama’s place on the ballot will bring scores of Democrats to the polls in November.

Although his campaign fundraising remains solid, Doherty underwhelmed with an appearance early in the campaign season on WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers. Prior says the candidate is dedicated to doing better.

In the end, the CD1 campaign will likely turn on who wins the perceptual battle. For Doherty, that means being more Independent Man, and less GOP partisan.

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