Brendan Doherty on Newsmakers: How’d He Do

Brendan Doherty, Republican candidate for U.S. Congressional District 1

Would I vote for retired State Police Colonel Brendan Doherty? Not from what I’ve seen (I also don’t believe that the Republicans have governed their half of the Congress well; though I wouldn’t say Democrats have done much better).

But that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to him before I cast my vote this November in the U.S. Congressional District 1 race. So I’m glad Rhode Islanders got a chance to hear the presumptive Republican nominee on WPRI’s Newsmakers. But how did he do?

Well, appearance-wise, Col. Doherty looks like anyone, though with well-groomed hair. But that could easily be said of the race’s incumbent, Congressman David Cicilline. However, Col. Doherty appeared (to me) to be hunched over during the interview; sometimes it felt like he was bobbing and weaving around the bottom half of the screen.

Furthermore, he could put a bit more attention into his collar; his tie seemed to bulge out around his neck, causing what should be a nice straight collar to ripple, making him look less professional than he probably is.

Those are things his media team/person should cover with him, working on keeping the wardrobe neat and his on-camera appearance level. This race will be covered well, which means that it’s likely Col. Doherty will be on television many times more. Nailing how to position yourself for the camera has been part of the strong politician’s repertoire since Kennedy vs. Nixon. But voters don’t care about appearance, right? After all, they’ll decide this on the issues! Well, WPRI’s Tim White and Ted Nesi, joined by RI Public Radio’s Ian Donnis, have those covered.

Col. Doherty isn’t bad on the first question about why he wants to run. Comments about Col. Doherty when John Loughlin was still seeking the Republican nomination often focused on claiming Col. Doherty was a Democrat in Republican clothing, and to his credit, he hasn’t let that get him. Col. Doherty doesn’t shy away from saying he’ll buck his own party and doesn’t back down from that position despite coming out and saying cleanly that’s he a conservative Republican. He’s free to say that he won’t be beholden to his party now, because he won’t face a primary challenge, but it could’ve hurt him with Republican voters had a primary opponent existed. As it is, it’s decent positioning. It casts him as a Lincoln Chafee-style Republican (circa 2004) while not bringing up Governor Chafee’s name, which isn’t as beloved as it once was in the state.

He flubs the Bush tax cuts question pretty badly. Given the heated nature of the extension, that this is likely to be at least a minor campaign issue. I don’t understand why he says he’s for letting them all (or most of them) expire. There’s a few ways to read that answer:

  1. Col. Doherty doesn’t understand the issue/simply didn’t listen to or understand the question at that moment.
  2. He doesn’t want to stick to Republican orthodoxy.
  3. He’s trying the whole “raise taxes on the poor” message that’s come along in some Republican camps (though letting the tax cuts expire wouldn’t do that, really).

Regardless, it’s not his strongest points. Where I’m with the Colonel is on the following issues:

  1. The Affordable Health Care Act is confusing as hell.
  2. The age for social security kicking in can probably be increased for younger folks, (though I think, at the very least, changing it for high-wage earners might be a good idea).

But then you have the typical avoidance answer of looking at waste and fraud as a way to cut the deficit. Mr. White tries to head that off, but to no avail, that’s the answer Col. Doherty wants to give. Anything else is “on the table” or “for review”. And while that might work for Rhode Island politics, it just doesn’t cut it for national politics. If you’re going to cut, you need to name something. You can practically see the exasperation on the reporters’ faces as Col. Doherty launches into waste and fraud; you can hear it in their responses telling him how often they hear it and just how little it really matters.

His response is pretty typical on Israel. Stock Israel policy; “strongest ally in the Middle East”, “stand with the people of Israel”, etc., etc. Except that he’s been to Israel for a week on counterterrorism training, so that’s at least slightly different. No nuance in the issue.

It’s hard to tell whether his position on President Obama’s contraception policy will hurt him or help him. I’d err towards the former, since a Brown poll found that women and young voters support Obama’s revised policy. Since Doherty is weak with young voters, and since they’ll play a larger part in a presidential election year (though not as strongly as 2008 due to Obama fatigue), he might want to rethink that stance. Couching it as an attack on the Catholic Church is rather nonsensical (Catholics and Democrats have a long-standing historical relationship) but would probably get a lot of support in Cranston. Unfortunately, they vote in CD2.

Col. Doherty appears to inadvertently make a statement which is should hold resonance for recession Rhode Island: that he’s been in hard times. “I know what it’s like to need, I know what it’s like to want,” he says, relating the story of his family becoming poor after being well-off due to family illness, discussing the possibility of losing their house and him being unable to attend then-Bryant College. For people struggling under Rhode Island’s ruined economy, that should be Col. Doherty’s lead-off pitch. Unfortunately, instead of that coming up during a question about the economy, it’s about making compromises and tough choices. While that’s fine, it’s clearly the strongest part of his campaign, and something that could draw a stark line between him and Mr. Cicilline (assuming Mr. Cicilline is the Democratic nominee, as rumblings of a primary challenge still exist).

This is where Col. Doherty could be weak to Mr. Cicilline. Economic arguments should be the focus of this campaign. By weighing in on social issues, Col. Doherty opens himself to attacks along those lines, which distract from the argument that Republicans should be the caretakers of the economy. Take the Tea Party for example. Tea Party members are really just the same social conservatives that have always existed in the Republican Party. But in 2010, they ignored social issues in favor of economic ones, leading to a titanic wave during the midst of the recession. But since that time, the state legislatures they captured have introduced more and more social issues bills, and it’s no surprise that the Tea Party has polled as more unpopular than Atheists and Sarah Palin. Col. Doherty just handed a hammer for any Democrat to hit him with.

Conspicuous in its absence? Providence.

A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

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