With former state Representative and all-but-official Congressional candidate John J. Loughlin II set to return to Rhode Island from an Army Reserve deployment in Iraq around Christmastime, the GOP primary for the seat held by Congressman David Cicilline is about to kick off in earnest.
One dynamic to watch: the debate over national defense.
The economy is, clearly, the overriding issue this campaign season. And Loughlin and GOP rival Brendan Doherty, considered the frontrunner at the moment, are sure to spend plenty of time talking about jobs and government spending.
But Doherty's passion is national defense - that was clear when I interviewed him this summer for a profile and look at his political prospects. And as a former superintendent of state police who dabbled in anti-terrorism work, the issue is a natural fit. But Loughlin's Army service in Iraq, of course, gives him real bona fides on the issue.
So, can Loughlin neutralize Doherty on his favorite issue? Indeed, does he try to make national security a central talking point of his own? Or does defense talk get completely sublimated by talk of jobs and government budgets?
Loughlin, as a former state legislator, probably has a more natural entree to those money issues. But his track record there, while generally solid from a GOP perspective, includes some vulnerable points. Loughlin, for instance, once called for a federal bailout of state pension plans - a move that now seems unnecessary, not to mention distasteful for small-government conservatives, in the wake of Rhode Island's big pension fix.
Doherty's big fundraising advantage, if it holds, will also allow him to speak louder than Loughlin on economic questions. The question is: can he use his megaphone to speak about defense, too?