RE: A Foregone Conclusion

A commenter to Justin’s post remarks:

One would hope that maybe Steve Laffey would challenge Linc for the Republican nod. Of course the White House would probably offer the traitorous Chafee the same support it gave Arlen Specter. In a Kennedy-Chafee race, truly a contest of empty suits I think I would have to abstain. Should Langevin throw his hat in the ring, I could be comfortable voting for him against Chafee.

To which another responded:

I respectfully disagree. Unless RI Democrats run someone to the right of Chafee, I think Republicans should faithfully pull the Chafee lever. Failure to do so would elect yet one more liberal Democrat and bring Harry Reid one vote closer to being Majority Leader.
Further, dumping Chafee so that a civil war will break out in the RI GOP would be a death knell for the Republican Party in that state. RI is not secretly waiting for the true conservatives to ride back in and save them from mushy moderates. To the contrary, RI is one of the most liberal states in the nation. The only kind of Republican that can win there is the liberal kind. It’s this kind of thinking — that conservatives should demand nothing less than ideological purity — that has destroyed the GOP in Illinois, New Jersey, and California.

As they say: “Aye, thar’s the rub!” That Chafee is a Republican benefits all Rhode Islanders because he belongs to the party in power, even if he is a bit out of the Republican mainstream. Some view his “rogue” status as a political benefit and he garners much admiration for his “independent” nature, much like Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. However, there is a difference between he and the two senators from the Pine Tree State. While they may be independent, Chafee is more, well, “loose.” To wit, Senator Chafee has:

  • Come out against and then for the President’s Social Security Reform proposal.
  • Vacillated over whether to “stay” a Republican.
  • Voted for the wrong Bush.

And these are just a few recent examples.
In essence, Chafee has continued to be a pain in the neck to the conservative core of the Republican party. And though some view him as just another “independent” Northeast Liberal Republican like Snowe and Collins, Chafee’s actions have convinced many Ocean Staters that he is less “independent” and more “loose cannon.”
What Republican, other than Chafee, should conservatives support? The first rule of Rhode Island politics is name recognition. Thus, I think Governor Carcieri, a “kinder, gentler” Republican, is the type of Republican who would be palatable to both the Republican core and the Rhode Island electorate at large. Steve Laffey is a firebrand, and we conservatives love his style, but he would have a tough time selling himself to many of the traditional RI liberal voters. Yet, Laffey does have the aura of a populist about him, and that can be just as appealing as party affiliation or political ideology to many undecided voters.
Langevin has that name recognition and his life story is compelling, capped by his heroic triumph over personal tragedy to hold a U.S. House seat. He is a rare pro-life Democrat in a heavily Catholic state, which allows traditionally conservative Catholics to vote with their Democrat predispostions with a clear conscience. In short, he’s the strongest Democrat candidate in the field.
I think Langevin would beat Chafee and lose to Carcieri in a close race. A contest between he and Laffey would be fun, but Langevin would win by 4-6 points because Laffey’s hard-charging style simply turns some people off and alienates union households (and we know how many of those are in Rhode Island).
Politically, supporting Langevin would be a mistake for conservatives. It would be a risky venture to rid the Republican party of Chafee now in the (faint?) hope of recapturing the seat at a future date with a more ideologically “pure” candidate. Given the political proclivities of the Rhode Island polity–“we will remove no incumbent unless he’s REALLY corrupt (or inept)”– if Langevin ever won the Senate seat, he would be extremely difficult to dislodge.
If Republicans were to get rid of Chafee, it would have to be done in the Republican primary. However, if the attempt failed and he survived, it would be politically wise to support him in the general election. Romantic notions have no place in politics: maintaining political power (senate seats), even by electing a candidate whose views lay outside of the ideological norm of the party, is preferable to losing power, even if the perception is that the loss in power would be more illusory than real. Voting for a Democrat, no matter how appealling he may be, for the sake of ousting an ideological pariah would probably result in a near-permanent surrendering of both Senate seats to the Democrats, especially in a state dominated by Democrats. Thats the political angle.
However, there is also another angle: following your conscience. Who would be the best man for the job? If the race is indeed Chafee v. Langevin, I believe it would be Langevin. I disagree with him on some of his political stances, but I also agree with him on some issues that are significant to conservatives. The political differences between he and Chafee are marginal, but on the single biggest conservative issue, abortion, it is Langevin who is pro-life while Chafee is pro-abortion. Also, Langevin supported the Iraq War, while Chafee didn’t. Langevin strongly opposes the President’s Social Security Reform proposals, while Chafee has been tepid. However, probably the most important factor is this: Langevin simply isn’t as “kooky” as Chafee.
Thus, the quandry. Should conservatives take the political gamble and support a Democrat in the hope of pulling a thorn from their side, even if it could mean permanent loss of national power for RI Republicans? Does the fact that the Langevin is conservative on some key issues serve as a pallative? What of the risk that the seat could eventually be filled by one more ideologically liberal than Langevin? However, this last is mitigated by an earlier point: Rhode Islanders do love their incumbents. Thus, if conservatives are willing to have Langevin as their Senator for six years, they had better be ready to have him as their Senator for thirty years. For some, especially those for whom abortion is the most important issue, this will be entirely acceptable.
ADDENDUM: A comment by The Senescent Man reminded me that I had neglected to point to a similar conversation on his blog. He is very optimistic about a Steve Laffey run.

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Chuck Nevola
16 years ago

Marc:
As usual a well thought out commentary on this interesting issue in Rhode Island. I agree completely with your analysis, observations and most of your conclusions with one exception. I wouldn’t underestimate Stephen Laffey. Yes, he’s hard boiled. I think he’d have difficulty with women votes, for example. But he’s also proven himself to be very savvy, and would imagine him adjusting his style while leaning on his accomplishments in Cranston if he were to take the plunge. I don’t see Carcieri going for this seat for a couple of reasons. One would be that he’d not want to upset the Chafee dynasty. The other is that he can run securely for another 4 years as governor. I think the seat is Langevin’s except if Laffey gets serious, and my guess is that he will.

The Senescent Man
16 years ago

RI – US Senate Race Watch, Continued

Marc Comtois has a thought provoking post at Anchor Rising on the race brewing over incumbent RINO Lincoln Chafee’s US Senate Seat.
I agree with most of Marc’s excellent analysis and most of his conclusions with one exception. I think one must kee…

Marc Comtois
16 years ago

Chuck,
Thanks for the kind words. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love Steve Laffey, but my enthusiasm is a bit tempered by the experience of Dave Rogers v. Kennedy the last two times. A lot of us conservatives thought he had a chance, he wupped Kennedy in debates (we thought)…and he got 37% (or less). Now, Laffey will have a nice reservoir of experience to call upon, which makes his candidacy different than Rogers. I just wonder if his populist message will be enough translated statewide and when cast against the array of union forces that will oppose him. As to the Governor, I also agree, I don’t think he’ll run for anything else but Governor again, I was just trying to offer him as an example of the kind of Republican that would have a good shot at beating Langevin. Again, thanks for the input and check the post again for an update 😉

J. Berensen
J. Berensen
15 years ago

There is a reason why Nick Calio, the White House legislative guy, is hosting fundraising events for Chafee and it’s definately not because Bush loves Chafee. They think he is the only guy who can keep the seat. Both Chafee and Laffey are in tough spots.
Laffey has continually raised property taxes in Cranston and now needs to become “anti-tax” in the primary. If you ask anybody in Cranston if Laffey is against taxes, they laugh at you. He then needs to steer to the center real quick for the general. He’s losing in head-to-heads against not only Whitehouse, but against Matt Brown, too! And let’s face it, Brown is a lightweight who will probably be driven out of the Dem race by next summer.
Chafee’s problems are the problems of every northeast Republican moderate remaining in politics, disaffected base votes out a moderate Rep, Dem wins in general election.
If the GOP has a primary and the Dems avoid one and get a clear shot at the seat, it will be a long time before there is ever again RI Republican in DC. Come to think of it, does anyone remember U.S. Senator Brooke from Massachusetts….?

J. Berensen
J. Berensen
15 years ago

There is a reason why Nick Calio, the White House legislative guy, is hosting fundraising events for Chafee and it’s definately not because Bush loves Chafee. They think he is the only guy who can keep the seat. Both Chafee and Laffey are in tough spots.
Laffey has continually raised property taxes in Cranston and now needs to become “anti-tax” in the primary. If you ask anybody in Cranston if Laffey is against taxes, they laugh at you. He then needs to steer to the center real quick for the general. He’s losing in head-to-heads against not only Whitehouse, but against Matt Brown, too! And let’s face it, Brown is a lightweight who will probably be driven out of the Dem race by next summer.
Chafee’s problems are the problems of every northeast Republican moderate remaining in politics, disaffected base votes out a moderate Rep, Dem wins in general election.
If the GOP has a primary and the Dems avoid one and get a clear shot at the seat, it will be a long time before there is ever again RI Republican in DC. Come to think of it, does anyone remember U.S. Senator Brooke from Massachusetts….?

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