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Democratic Heavyweights Backing Republican Doherty

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


He is running as a Republican, but most of former State Police Colonel Brendan Doherty’s biggest supporters are major Democratic donors, according to a GoLocalProv review of his first campaign finance report, filed last week.

In all, Doherty pulled in $250,000 in just 50 days of announcing his run for the First Congressional District seat. Of his donors, 93 contributed $1,000 or more—up to the maximum of $2,500. A GoLocalProv review of state and federal campaign finance records revealed that those high-end contributors are overwhelmingly Democratic donors.

Political experts and observers told GoLocalProv yesterday that the trend could indicate a perception that incumbent Congressman David Cicilline is vulnerable in 2012, as well as a sense that Doherty has promise as a candidate who has appeal across the political spectrum. Few saw the strong Democratic support as a potential issue for Doherty heading into the GOP primary against John Loughlin.

Two thirds of top donors did not support a Republican in ‘10

At the state level, donors broke down as follows:

■ Nearly two thirds of the donors did not donate to a single Republican statewide candidate in the 2010 election cycle.
■ Of the remaining third that did, all but a handful poured much more money into Democratic campaigns than Republican ones, donating to one or two token GOP candidates.
■ About a third of the donors backed Democrat Frank Caprio in his bid for governor.
■ About a third of the GOP donors contributed to Governor Don Carcieri’s campaign organization.

“It’s possible that these contributors sense a strong candidate and a possible winner so they want to get in line behind such a candidate very early on,” said pollster Victor Profughi, a pollster and retired political science professor at Rhode Island College. “Secondly, it could reflect a concern over the incumbent. It could be a reflection that either this guy is vulnerable or that he is carrying a lot of baggage because of his position as former mayor.”

Profughi said the race juxtaposes an unusual set of circumstances. On the one hand, he said the Democratic incumbent has sunk in the polls over the backlash from the Providence fiscal crisis. On the other hand, he said Republicans have the unusual fortune of a candidate who has a well-known, positive image in the state.

“This is a sign of Colonel Doherty’s cross-partisan appeal. He has been successful at attracting support from individuals who have supported Democrats in the past,” said former Brown University political scientist Darrell West, now a vice president at the Brookings Institution. “These are probably moderate to conservative Democrats who are unhappy with Cicilline’s voting record.”

Ex-Cicilline supporters swing behind Doherty

A review of the contribution records of the top Doherty donors in the Federal Election Commission database confirmed that most are Democratic supporters:

■ 77 percent of them simply sat out the 2010 Congressional campaigns in Rhode Island.
■ Of those that did get involved, just five threw their support behind a Republican—split between Loughlin and Mark Zaccaria in the Second Congressional District.
■ Nearly 15 percent of the donors are ex-Cicilline supporters from the 2010 campaign. Of those, two donated to Cicilline again earlier this year—before Doherty announced his candidacy.
■ The most common Rhode Island recipients of donations from this group are Democrats, including Congressman James Langevin, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. The most prominent exception is Lincoln Chafee.

Official: Campaign not targeted at Democratic donors

Officials with the Doherty campaign said the high number of Democratic donations says more about who Doherty is as a candidate than his political leanings. “I think who he is and the character and integrity he brings to the table are really just resonating with people. They just want an honest candidate,” said spokesman Dante Bellini. “It’s a breath of fresh air in Rhode Island.”

Bellini denied there was any concerted strategy to reach out to Democratic donors. He also declined to comment on whether the donations represented a move by Democratic donors to take out Cicilline in the next election.

“I think what it illustrates is something we already know – many Rhode Islanders are ticket-splitters and give to candidates on both sides of the aisle,” said Cara Cromwell, a political consultant who ran Loughlin’s 2010 campaign but is currently not affiliated with any campaign. “I think it’s too early to make any predictions but it’s obvious that all the interest and support for both GOP candidates isn’t good news for Congressman Cicilline,” she added.

Over time, one political analyst predicts that more GOP donors will show up in Doherty’s campaign finance reports.

“It’s early in the fundraising process and the fact that Doherty at this point is concentrating on people that he knows well … I’m not surprised,” said Tony Affigne, a professor at Providence College. “I expect that as time goes on that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans will balance out, especially as he begins to do out of state fundraisers—most of them are likely to be Republicans.”

So far, Cicilline does not seem to be suffering in his fundraising efforts. While Doherty pulled in $250,000 in donations—not counting a personal loan of $50,000—Cicilline raised $360,000 in the second quarter, roughly double what he did in the first quarter this year. Loughlin meanwhile collected just $3,000 during the quarter. (Yesterday a spokeswoman for Cicilline’s campaign declined to comment for this story, as did a spokesman for Loughlin.)

Cross-partisan appeal a ‘terrific’ asset

The influx of Democratic money could raise anew questions about Doherty’s Republican bona fides. Soon after he announced his candidacy, GoLocalProv exclusively reported that Doherty had voted in the Democratic primaries in 2006 and 2008. He voted in the GOP primary last year.

“The fact is that Colonel Doherty is a registered Republican,” Bellini said. “He tends to be conservative but he takes it issue by issue. He has no apologies for anything in terms of who he is and what he characterizes himself as.”

West said Doherty’s cross-partisan appeal should be viewed as an asset by GOP voters. “Cross-partisan appeal is terrific when you are taking on an incumbent Congressman. Republicans shouldn’t see that as a liability, but as a strength in terms of ultimate electability,” West said.

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