Drafting Laffey or Protesting Chafee?

Well, it’s official. A group is attempting to draft Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey into a run for Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s seat.

A group of Republicans statewide has organized a committee to encourage Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey to challenge Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee in 2006.
There are 85 names on a letter given to Laffey yesterday, including 2000 gubernatorial candidate James Bennett, Cranston state Representatives Carol Mumford and James F. Davey, East Providence Mayor Joseph Larisa and members of city and town councils, party members and business people.
Former Cranston Republican City Committee Chairman Gary Vierra said that he and others — mostly members of the Cranston GOP — were behind the effort, which was launched two weeks ago. Vierra said the signers of the letter consider Chafee — the most centrist of the Senate’s Republicans — does not represent their political views. Laffey is considered to be more conservative.
“I don’t feel [Chafee] really represents the Republican ideals,” Vierra said.
Yesterday, he presented the letter to the mayor, urging him to run.
“We believe that your qualifications, your record of achievement and your personal background make you the right person for the job at this critical time in our nation’s history,” the letter reads.
It also mentions Laffey’s role in turning around Cranston’s finances, and Laffey’s background — a public-school-educated son of a middle-class Cranston family who headed an investment banking firm — as qualifications.
Laffey, who has been uncharacteristically tightlipped when his plans for future office are discussed, said only that he was honored when Vierra brought him the letter.
“I took it, I read it, and I just said, ‘I’m honored, Gary,’ ” Laffey said. He said that knowing he has the support of prominent members of the party will be a big factor if he decides to run for the Senate.
“It does make me pause,” he said. “I take it very, very seriously.”
He said he would call many of the people on the list to thank them and to discuss his options. He said he was not aware there was an attempt to “draft” him before yesterday.
The draft Laffey movement was launched without the sanction of the statewide party. Vierra said that the party leadership is veering too near the political center.
“They are a small group of people who do not listen to the membership,” he said.
The Republican State Central Committee was not informed of the draft Laffey campaign, which was intended to a be a low-profile effort, Vierra said. He added that he did not ask Governor Carcieri to sign on.
The state GOP’s executive director, Jeffrey Deckman, said the draft movement did not signal a rift in the party.
“This party is more together and more open than it has been in 15 years,” he said, and in any party, disagreements will happen, he said.
“I’m not into fighting amongst the party. But I also know not everyone’s going to get along,” he said.
In his perfect world, Deckman said, there would be no primary in the 2006 race for the Senate seat.
“We like to avoid primaries. We don’t like our resources pointed at each other. We want them pointed at the enemy,” he said.
The campaign has not registered with the state as a political action committee and no events are planned yet.

On today’s Dan Yorke show, in an interview with Gary Vierra, Yorke expressed skepticism that Laffey had no prior knowledge of this movement to draft him. Vierra assured that this was the case. Yorke also asked if this was more of a “Laffey’s great” or a “Chafee is awful” based movement. Vierra demured.
Yorke also spoke to Governor Carcieri, who has not committed as of yet, but was complimentary of Laffey’s record and noted that he was also not endorsed by the state Republican party in his run for Governor.
For my part, I tend to believe that conservatives are more fed up with Chafee than they are necessarily enamored with Mayor Laffey’s cult of personality. (There, I said it). By this, I mean that, while the mayor is obviously conservative in many of his stances, and he’s a particularly sound fiscal conservative, he also seems to enjoy basking in the limelight for its own sake a bit too much for me. (The whole radio show imbroglio is a case in point). In short, I must confess I’m not sure how much of Steve Laffey the politician is based on promoting conservative principles and how much is being the establishment gadfly. Being the latter can be fun and entertaining, but, in the long run, it has no inherent worth in and of itself. Laffey’s track record cannot be discounted, but I wonder if his personality won’t end up superseding it, for good or ill.

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