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?

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Will
16 years ago

Don has made some good points here. Chafee is a bit “stuck.” It’s pretty hard for him to move much further to the left, as he’s already to the left of about 1/2 of the democrat caucus! And if he somehow moves to the right, not only would it seem disingenuous to regular Republicans who will be wondering where “Mr. Republican” has been for the last 6 years, but would likely cost him the support of left-leaning independents who would prefer “the real thing.” He will need to convince them to cross-over to win the GOP primary. Chafee’s best chance, if he’s looking to continue to the general election, is to defect from the GOP and run as an independent, and hope to win with at least 34% of the vote split three ways, like Cianci did in 1990. Almost anyway you slice it, Chafee is toast. Would you like butter or jelly on that, sir?

Anthony
Anthony
16 years ago

Chafee is not going to “run right” in the primary. He is very comfortable with himself where he is at on the political spectrum–right in the middle (and yes, while it seems he’s liberal, his votes place him at the literal mid-point of the Senate, with most Republicans to his right and most Democrats to his left). Chafee is not the type of individual to change positions to win a primary. It seems like people are missing the fact that this race has broader implications beyond Rhode Island. In the GOP primary, Chafee will run as the only candidate who can keep the U.S. Senate in Republican hands, which according to the polls, is true. Laffey’s negatives are already so high with so many “no opinions” that he would need to win virtually every single undecided to win a general election. Let’s face it, the White House isn’t supporting Chafee because he is the most conservative candidate. Bush is supporting Chafee because he believes Chafee will keep the U.S. Senate in Republican hands. Without the Senate majority, it will be impossible to drive the President’s agenda. While Chafee often publicly went “off the reservation”, he was there when the administration truly needed the votes. Without him, John Ashcroft would never have made it through the confirmation process, Bush’s intiatives on Medicare would never have been adopted and so forth and by doing so was able to maintain a relationship with the White House. Chafee won’t try to run to the right. He’ll try to get Rhode Island Republicans to support him for the same reasons that Bush, Carcieri, Frist and virtually every other national Republican supports him: he’ll keep the Senate in GOP hands. People who think he will become intellectually dishonest and change colors just because he faces a… Read more »

don roach
don roach
16 years ago

Chafee cannot run as an independent. That would be political suicide. If I recall correctly, the GOP is carrying a very small margin in the Senate, and any defectors would likely face reprucussions in their subsequent elections. So if Chafee wanted hundreds of thousands of dollars to start flowing in Laffey’s direction instead of his, sure become and independent. Chafee just cannot afford to switch to an independent at this point.
I don’t know if I’d say Chafee is toast either. He does have plenty of goodwill built up among Rhode Islanders. It all depends on how he defines himself in this race. If I were on the Chafee campaign team, I’d definitely suggest he position himself early in the campaign and take the it to Laffey versus allowing Laffey the first shots. However, Chafee has also met many challenges before and we shouldn’t expect him to just roll over and play dead just because the mayor has entered the race.

Tim
Tim
16 years ago

Absolutely embarrassing but very funny comment from Will.
An incumbent Republican Senator should quit the GOP and run as an independent in the general election because big bad Steve Laffey is now in the race.
God this is funny stuff!!
I can’t begin to tell you what a shock YOU Laffey Kool-aid drinkers are in for next year.
Do the math!!
The unions ONLY need 15,000 (there #’s are over 100,000 in the state) of their members to get involved in the Rep primary and vote agaist Laffey. Safe to assume each one of those 15,000 has at least one spouse, siblings, child or friend who they would recruit to get involved.
Chafee is toast?? Not even close!
Laffey has opened the door to be targeted and defeated because of his insistence to run in a primary.
Laffey is much more vunerable to targeted opposition in a primary than in a statewide elction.
He’s going to find out just how vunerable next Septrember.

mike@rightri
16 years ago

Tim, did that tactic prove successful in Cranston? I think many will be surprised at how many change-oriented voters participate in both the primary and general election. Chafee and Whitehouse are establishment candidates.
Don, what bothers me most is your claim that Laffey is simply an opportunist who cares little about the Republican Party. Consider that Chafee has done nothing to promote the party, has been actively sought by the media to support their attempts to embarrass the Republican leadership, and publicly announced that he would not vote for George W for reelection. He’s doing more damage to our party nationally. Also, the RI Republican party is almost non-existent. What do we possibly have to lose?
Furthermore, an opportunist would run for Lt. Governor, a fairly easy win that could lead him to the governor’s office in a few years. Senate is an uphill battle for Laffey.

Tim
Tim
16 years ago

Mike, are you comparing Gary Reilly to Linc Chafee?
You make a great mistake in thinking what Laffey was able to mobilize
in Cranston somehow translates to running statewide.
Let’s put this another way, how many votes will Laffey garner in Cranston over what Chafee pulls from Warwick?
Running throughout the state is an entirely different dynamic and Laffey will find that out the hard way.
His decision to seek a primary leaves him very vunerable and will be his undoing.

Tom W
Tom W
16 years ago

Chafee may try the “you need me to keep the Senate Republican” gambit but, FWIW, I won’t bite.
The Democrats with a determined minority have proven far more effective at pushing their agenda than has the Republican “majority” with Chafee, Collins, Specter et als.
The federal government has grown by leaps and bounds since the “Republicans” took control of Congress.
Illegals – now presumably joined by al Queda terrorists – cross out southern borders with impunity and in ever-greater numbers.
The Republicans have passed the greatest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ, i.e., the “Prescription Drug Benefit.”
WE DON’T NEED A “REPUBLICAN PARTY MAJORITY” SO MUCH AS WE NEED A MAJORITY OF THE PARTY TO BE REPUBLICANS!!!!
Right now a determimed minority of real / Reagan Republicans would be preferable to the current majority of “moderate” / Rockefeller Republicans.

BMT
BMT
16 years ago

I also don’t buy the notion that the GOP will lose five or more seats in 2006. There may be a big hit in 2008, but not 2006.

Anthony
Anthony
16 years ago

“Chafee has done nothing to promote the party”: where have you been for the past 20 years!?! Chafee has done more to help RI Republican candidates than any other elected Republican. He has campaigned with hundreds of candidates and donated thousands of dollars for Republican regardless of whether they shared his ideological beliefs. He ensured that the state’s second largest city, Warwick, remained in Republican hands for over a decade and kept taxes down the entire time. People in Warwick still love him.
Let’s look at the other Republicans over this same time period: Almond, Machtley, Mayer, Pine, Violet–the list goes on. Have you seen them helping elect Republican candidates?
Carcieri has helped, but let’s face it, he was a registered independent until he ran for governor three years ago.
Laffey? He helps other Republicans when it helps him and hurts other Republicans when it helps him.
Don’t equate disapproving of Chafee’s policies with liking Steve Laffey. I’m one of those individuals the Projo polled who doesn’t necessarily approve of Chafee’s job performance but I’ll definately vote for him over Steve Laffey.

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