Outrunning the Laffey-Train
Senator Chafee finds himself in a very awkward position: As Andrew noted on Thursday, Cranston mayor Stephen Laffey announced his intentions to run for his U.S. Senate seat in 2006. Unfortunately for Chafee, this is going to be a very tough pill to swallow for many reasons.
First, without having to face a primary, it would be very likely that Chafee would have had a sizeable cash advantage over his Democratic challenger because of the potentially heated race between Sheldon Whitehouse and Matt Brown. While sitting on the sidelines eating popcorn, Chafee would have been able to size up his opponent, research weak points, and come out swinging after the Democratic primary. However, in facing arguably Rhode Island’s third most recognizable figure, even if Chafee wins the primary, he will do so with much less money in the bank. Yet, that isn’t even Chafee’s biggest concern.
More troubling for Chafee will be the waltz he will be forced to learn. I do mean waltz. Laffey, considered a hero to many hard-line and progressive RI Republicans, is far more to the right than Chafee on many issues. So, while Laffey runs a balanced budget/immigration friendly/pork killing campaign, Chafee may be forced to move toward him on issues that RI Republicans have chided him about for years in order to stem the Laffey-train. However, even if he does this successfully, Chafee would then need to drift back toward the left in order to beat his Democratic challenger. And I don’t know if he can do that and keep the respect and trust of Rhode Islanders, his most valuable political resources.
As a Rhode Islander for the last ten years, I can’t remember a Republican primary as compelling as this one will be. The ultimate question: will we look back at the Senate 2006 race as a watershed moment for Chafee — who solidified his power base — or a moment when an opportunistic challenger allowed his hubris to cloud his judgment with dire consequences to the political futures of both himself and the Rhode Island Republican party?