Potential U.S. Senate candidate Mike Doherty doesn’t sound like a typical New Jersey Republican.
Take, for instance, yesterday’s Assembly debate on Linda Stender’s global warming bill. While most Assembly Republicans who spoke up against the bill focused on what they considered its vague language, Mike Doherty went to the very heart of the issue, attacking the scientific foundation of global warming.
“One of the things that gets my goat…. are statements that I’ve heard that the debate is over,” said Doherty. “It’s my understanding that the earth has warmed up and cooled down hundreds of times.”
Doherty is mounting a campaign for US Senate, but he’s not going to moderate his stances to have a broader ideological appeal. He tacks far right of many New Jersey Republicans on some issues, including Anne Evans Estabrook, his Senate primary opponent.
Yesterday, Doherty – whose desk contained a copy of the New York Post and a paperback of Dear Americans: Letters from the Desk of Ronald Reagan — gave what amounted to a 10 minute lecture, touching on topics from measuring CO2 levels in arctic ice, to Norse settlements in Greenland, to disputing Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.” It was a speech more characteristic of Republicans from redder states; divorced from the more moderate tone his Assembly GOP colleagues took in the debate.
Common wisdom dictates that this kind of hard-line conservatism plays well in Doherty’s conservative legislative district and could help him in the primary against the more moderate Estabrook. But it’s not likely to help his chances in the general election, in which he’d be facing Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey’s elder statesman.
“In general, conservative really doesn’t fare well in any kind of statewide election,” said Joe Marbach, a Political Science and acting dean at Seton Hall. “The classic example is Brett Schundler, who even though he came out of Jersey City and was really non-partisan, every time he ran he couldn’t shake the conservative label. In New Jersey politics in the last 20 or 30 years, the conservative label has been really the kiss of death.”
Marbach pointed out that the two most popular New Jersey Republicans in recent memory, Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, both ran as moderates.
“The fact of the matter is that Assemblyman Doherty’s opinion has no bearing on the reality of global warming,” said Juan Melli, the founder of BlueJersey.com, a progressive Web site. “He can believe that Jesus had a pet dinosaur if he wants, but it doesn’t make it true. There is practically no credible dissention within the scientific community about the facts that Doherty refuses to accept. This is not a conservative or liberal issue, nor should it be. He is simply on the wrong side of reality.”
Doherty admits that the majority of New Jerseyans don’t share some of his more conservative views. But he thinks that voters can look past them.
“There are much more important issues,” said Doherty. “Some of the things we voted on today are merely diversionary. They’re trying to divide people.”
Those issues: immigration, dependence on foreign oil and foreign policy, not to mention his solidly middle-class, military background. Republicans, Doherty said, suffer from an image of being the party for the rich. Having a hard working Irish Catholic candidate can help appeal to voters.
“I think New Jersey’s got a tremendous number of Irish and Italian Catholics, and I’m proud to be Irish Catholic,” said Doherty. “People vote for many reasons or no reason whatsoever other than ‘hey, that guy has a similar background to me’… The Republican Party needs to run some people with Y’s or vowels at the end of the name. I think that would produce some better results.”
Doherty has been meeting with county and state Republican officials about his potential Senate run, and has picked up some party support. Rep. Scott Garrett and Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance are co-chairing his exploratory panel, while 23rd district running mate Marcia Karrow, Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and conservative activist Bill Spadea have all signed on to his exploratory panel.