By throwing his support behind Ron Paul, Assemblyman Mike Doherty became the highest profile New Jersey politician to back the long shot presidential candidate.
This move wasn't surprising to people who have followed the career of the very conservative and outspoken legislator from Warren County, who tends not to equivocate on his political stances. But for a politician with aspirations for higher office, it wasn't the most practical choice.
While other legislators are lining up to hitch part of their political fortunes to Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain, Doherty chose a fringe candidate who consistently polls in the very low single digits. To Doherty, it's not so much about bolstering his own shot at a statewide seat someday as it is the principle of supporting the candidate he sees as most in line with old-fashioned, straight up conservatism.
"If I ever do run, lord willing, I don't think the establishment is going to support me. Everybody knows that," said Doherty, who set up an exploratory committee to run for U.S. Senate in the spring but dropped the potential bid in August. "But I think Ron Paul is opening up a new paradigm, an opportunity from grassroots to the bottom up."
Doherty's support for Paul hinges on two unorthodox principles: Paul's anti-interventionist military stance and his ideas on monetary policy.
A similar foreign policy idea to Paul's — that the United States should not participate in nation building, instead focusing its military resources in a defensive posture — was frequently raised by Doherty during his aborted Senate exploration ,when he emphasized the need to declare war before engaging in any conflict. Doherty, a West Point graduate with three sons in the military, emphasized that, like Paul, he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, although he did not speak out against it before it started.
"I guess I felt I was being loyal to the cause, hoped it went as well as possible, and I think traditionally you're going to give the president the benefit of the doubt," said Doherty. "But as you see this evolved and you see the drums being beat for invading Iran, it becomes rather alarming."
Doherty wants to instead deploy the military on the United States borders with Canada and Mexico, and is undecided on whether the invasion of Afghanistan was justified.
Gaining the support from a military man like Doherty also helps the Paul camapaign's credibility on military issues, said Paul supporter George Ajjan, a Republican blogger who ran a kamikaze campaign against U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell in 2004.
"The first thing it brings is credibility…. He's very well regarded as a solid conservative republican. And he augments the concept that those in the military are supportive of Ron Paul's policy of non-intervention," said Ajjan.
Doherty also said that, by talking about eliminating the federal reserve and radically changing the nation's monetary policy, Paul was speaking to issues none of the other presidential candidates were.
"We have a monetary policy where the Federal Reserve is continually creating new money to support this war, and it's devaluing the currency, killing the middle class and it's nothing new," said Doherty, who downplays his anti-abortion, anti-stem cell and anti-gay marriage stances as "trivial" compared to foreign and monetary policy.
Doherty's support for a non-mainstream candidate shouldn't come as a surprise. He consistently comfortably wins reelection in his solidly conservative district, but Doherty is far from the mainstream himself. Take, for instance, his impassioned speech on the Assembly floor in June, in opposition to Assemblywoman Linda Stender's Global Warming Response Act. While other Republicans who opposed the legislation questioned its practicality, Doherty questioned the scientific basis of global warming.
"Mike Doherty, in a good sense, is predictable," said Ingrid Reed, director of the Eagleton Institute's New Jersey Project. "He's consistent, he doesn't hide what he stands for, the always embraces it enthusiastically, and is articulate."
While admitting that Paul isn't likely to get the nomination this time around, Doherty likes to note that Paul was one of the few Congressmen to endorse Ronald Reagan during his failed Republican presidential primary bid against Gerald Ford in 1976. Four years later, he was the nominee.
Although Doherty makes no secret of his yearning for higher office, he admits that he didn't bow out of the U.S. Senate race only to not split the conservative primary vote between him and Joe Pennacchio, thus opening the door for the more moderate Anne Estabrook. He did have trouble raising money, and attributes it to business groups not seeing what's in their own best interest.
Doherty said that he had a luncheon with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association when he was still mulling a bid for Senate. And although officials acknowledged his anti-tax record, they only gave him a $2,000 contribution.
"They maxed out to Codey and Roberts, they gave $25k to both their leadership PACs, they gave guys like Ron Rice $5k," said Doherty. "…I think the business community did not realize that they need to do more to support pro-business candidates."
But when people doubt his chances at ever winning a statewide election, Doherty brings up his own experience running for Assembly in a 1999 primary against Leonard Lance and Connie Myers. He didn't win that year, but he did two years later.
"The seeds of victory are sewn in defeat," said Doherty.