How does Doherty measure up?

Can Rhode Island's GOP hopeful win over voters like golden boy Scott Brown?
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  August 22, 2012

DEMOCRATS FOR DOHERTY Flynn and former state rep Joanne Giannini with the candidate at a fundraiser.

After Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown pulled off his stunning victory in the January 2010 special election to fill Senator Ted Kennedy's seat, every political reporter and strategist in New England was eager to anoint the next truck-driving, populist star of the GOP.

But ours is an impatient news cycle. We've moved on. Two years later, it is no longer fashionable to look for the new Scott Brown.

It should be.

The senator's mix of blue-collar authenticity and political independence remains the most compelling model for a GOP resurgence in the northeast. A new poll giving him a lead on his 2012 opponent, liberal doyenne Elizabeth Warren, only underscores the point.

And here in Rhode Island, we've finally got our first plausible heir to Brown in Republican Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty: he of the deep roots, humble beginnings, and squishy ideology.

But if Doherty, the former superintendent of state police, has the raw materiel, can he really pull off a credible Brown imitation?

As he enters the homestretch in his fight against embattled Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, that might be the single most important question of his campaign.


Ian Prior, Doherty's campaign manager, says there is no formal coordination with the Brown team.

But Doherty, he says, keeps close tabs on the Massachusetts senator — one of a dwindling breed of moderate Congressional Republicans he hopes to emulate in Washington.

The overlap between the two campaigns is pretty striking. Doherty held a press conference last month backing Brown's Stolen Valor Act, which would punish those who profit from lying about military service. Both candidates have made an issue of a relatively obscure medical devices tax in President Obama's health care law, arguing that it would hurt local businesses.

And just this week, Doherty followed Brown's quick call for Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin to step down after making controversial comments about rape. But if Brown's tactics are worthy of imitation, his real bequest is something more elemental.

Brown's "one of us" appeal is the key to his success. He built his first campaign around the slogan: "I'm Scott Brown. I'm from Wrentham. And I drive a truck." And since then, he's gone to great lengths to keep up the regular guy image.

He's at Fenway Park on Opening Day. And he'll talk about it on sports radio. "Scott Brown walks into a room without an entourage, drinks beer out of a bottle, attends events, enjoys himself, and stays," former Democratic president of the Boston City Council Larry DiCara recently told The New Republic. "And he's a really easy guy to like."

Brown flashed a bit of the charm at a July 2 fundraiser for Doherty at the Metacomet Country Club in East Providence.

Both men were talented basketball players as teenagers. And as Doherty stood before the crowd that night, he recalled going up against Brown in a one-on-one tournament in his youth. His opponent, he joked, hacked his way to victory that day. And he's still complaining about it, retorted Brown, to the laughs of the assembled.

Doherty has grown more comfortable on the stump of late, but he still has nothing approaching Brown's easy bearing.

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Related: Elephant in the Room, New and improved Romney, The next Scott Brown?, More more >
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