Ian Donnis Sets Up the Republican Senate Stretch Run

Ian Donnis sets up the stretch run for the Rhode Island Republican Senate primary in this week’s Providence Phoenix

With recent polls showing the two Republicans in a neck-and-neck race, [Steve] Laffey’s Senate hopes will live or die on how well he can extend support beyond his conservative base in the state’s tiny Republican Party. Most Rhode Island voters are independents and it is they who will likewise decide [Lincoln] Chafee’s fate. And with little more than three months until the September 12 primary, the sizzling campaign — already marked by a steady stream of back-and-forth negative advertising between both camps — is about to shift into a higher gear.
Despite a few quibbles here and there (for instance, Donnis goes with the “moderate” label for Senator Chafee, when Senator Chafee’s record tends to be moderate on tax-and-spend issues, but liberal on almost everything else of importance, averaging out somewhere well to the left of moderate; or maybe Senator Chafee really does seem moderate if you hang out with Phoenix staffers all day long) Donnis’ article is an excellent view of what the non-political junkies who make up the bulk of the electorate are/will be seeing as they begin to pay closer attention the Senate race as primary day draws closer. As they say, “read the whole thing”.
If readers mention in the comments that they find certain sections especially interesting or important, I’ll excerpt them for a more specific discussion.

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Rhody
Rhody
15 years ago

I’d say the bigger point, little touched upon in this story, is that Whitehouse is likely the only winner when all is said and done. The level of personal animosity between the Laffey and Chafee camps, which the general public is just starting to grasp, guarantees that the loser’s camp will back Whitehouse out of spite. This hig-profile animosity wasn’t present in Carcieri-Bennett or Almond-Machtley.
I’m sure Laffey will get a radio talk show out of this campaign, though – think Barber will last much past the elections?

Tom W
Tom W
15 years ago

Rhody –
I have to disagree with your assumption that the Chafee / Laffey “loser’s camp” will automatically “support” Whitehouse.
Under this scenario, I suspect that if Laffey loses the primary most of his supporters will merely “sit out” that race in the general election, for they could never bring themselves to vote for Whitehouse – his liberal positions being an anathema to the average Laffey supporter.
On the other hand, it is possible that if Chafee loses the primary his supporters will support Whitehouse. Since Republicans are supposed to support small government / low taxes and conservative social values, those who support Chafee are not “real” Republicans … and Whitehouse’s liberal positions are much closer to those of Chafee supporters than are Laffey’s.
As for Barber on WPRO, that station’s selection of him amounts to one of those “what were they thinking?” mysteries.
I nominate myself to replace him!

Will
15 years ago

The only thing you need to know about the Senate race is there is one outsider running against two liberal insiders with nearly identical beliefs. In an election year that may generally not favor incumbents or political insiders, Laffey has a great shot using his outsider / clean up the mess message to his political advantage.
The main problem that Chafee has is that he consistently votes against the Republican Party as a whole, but every once in a whole, when his vote is absolutely necessary, he serves as the administration’s waterboy and throws us a bone — which has the net effect of pleasing almost no one left or right.
Although I am a supporter of President Bush, I’m also aware that his poll numbers in Rhode Island are even lower than those of the incumbent Senator Chafee. A close association between the administration and the junior senator is not going to help Chafee at all.

Greg
Greg
15 years ago

I was a big Matt Allen fan. I listened to Barber for 2 weeks to give him a fair shot and in that time I think I spent more time screaming at the radio than the rest of my life combined. He should go work for Air America.

Rhody
Rhody
15 years ago

Tom, whether the primary loser’s peeps votes for Whitehouse or stay home (or skip it i they come out to support other Republicans), the GOP can’t put a candidate over statewide without a united party.
And Will, after Laffey put his boy Manning in the RNC spot and held the $500K from the national party hostage, he forfeited any claim he had to being an outsider. He couldn’t pull that and Traficante’s ouster off on his own.
As for Barber, maybe his act played well in Michigan, but it doesn’t translate here. WPRO would be better served with a more knowledgeable local host, no matter his/her political pursuasion.

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

RI is a strange state. Politics is a closely watched sport in RI and Dave Barber doesn’t have the local background to be successful.
As for the Senate race, we may very well have already handed the Democrats a seat. The question is whether Chafee can bounce back in the few short weeks between the primary and the general election to keep the seat.
If Chafee can stay where he is at right now, he should be OK provided that the national GOP comes through with some cash. It’s going to take an all-out effort and hopefully at least some of the Laffey’s people will see that its better for the Republicans to keep control of the Senate.
Fortunately, the gubernatorial election will draw pro-Carcieri voters to the polls and the majority of those voters will go for Chafee over Whitehouse. The undecideds appear to be shrinking in both races, so at least a clearer picture has begun to emerge.

Jim
Jim
15 years ago

I can attest to the validity of Fred’s comments. Indeed, the establishment was taken aback. In fact, Patricia Morgan and Dick Fleury, the party legal counsel at the time, tried their hardest to come up with some way of keeping Traf on, despite their acknowledgement that he was not a registered Republican, one of the primary requirements for the job. (Imagine that – to be the Republican National Committeeman you had to be a registered Republican) These establishment idiots weren’t incensed that Traficante deliberately disaffiliated from the Republican party, they were mad at Laffey for the “way he went about it”. That’s right, he should have given Traf the opportunity to correct his wanton, deliberate finger in the face of the party. In the end, they understood what they were up against, and begrudgingly accepted reality. It goes a long way in explaining why this is the minority party, and will be until all of these clowns are kicked out on their butts. Until Carcieri smartens up and realizes that good strong party leadership actually make his job easier he is getting exactly what he deserves.
You reap what you sow.

Will
15 years ago

“And Will, after Laffey put his boy Manning in the RNC spot and held the $500K from the national party hostage, he forfeited any claim he had to being an outsider.”
A quick response, because dredging that up is pretty lame at this point … you got what you wanted … eventually. Robert Manning has his own brain and he used it. He was on the right side of the issue. He submitted the issue to a vote and kept his word, unlike certain party elites which shall remain nameless.
Since we’re on that subject, just where is that huge pile of RNC assistance now? Seems to be in hiding at the moment (much like Chafee ducking debates). Specifically, who is it now helping? The party sure doesn’t seem to have any money available to support the few candidates it managed to scrape up to run.

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

Realities:
1. If Laffey were to convince every undecided voter to vote for him, he’d still lose the election by a double-digit margin unless he convinced some of Sheldon Whitehouse’s supporters to vote for him. Not very likely.
2. Undecided voters in RI DON’T tend to break towards challengers. As Carroll Andrew Morse’s post points out, they tend to break along lines more closely mirroring poll results than just to a challenger. Maybe some Rhode Islanders voters just don’t want to tell a pollster who they’re voting for?
2. For someone who doesn’t believe in polls, Laffey sure spends alot of money on polling.
3. Chafee is the only Republican who can win in November. Before the primary started, he would have walked into office. Now its a close race, but Chafee should still win.
4. Anyone who thinks the primary is about Steve Laffey’s chances of winning is wrong. It’s about many things:
the Club for Growth trying to knock out a incumbent Republican moderate so that it can put a notch on its belt;
Steve Laffey attempting to get national name recognition so he’ll have a stepping stone after the campaign is over;
the Democrats desiring to fan the flames of a heated primary and get control of the Senate.
But one thing that this campaign is definitely NOT about is Laffey winning anything.
If you call yourself a Republican and you don’t care about keeping Republican control of the Senate, you should look at yourself in the mirror really hard.

Greg
Greg
15 years ago

“If you call yourself a Republican and you don’t care about keeping Republican control of the Senate, you should look at yourself in the mirror really hard.”
I proudly call myself a Republican. My concern is that Chafee does too when he has no right to the moniker. I’d rather a democrat get the seat than a RINO.

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

Greg,
That’s fine if you’d rather have a Democrat in office than a moderate Republican. At least your not trying to perpetuate the myth that Laffey has any chance of winning.
Just make sure you accept responsiblity for your actions and don’t complain when taxes go up, liberals are on the Supreme Court and RI has an all Democrat congressional delegation for the next 20 years.

Tom W
Tom W
15 years ago

>>That’s fine if you’d rather have a Democrat in office than a moderate Republican. At least your not trying to perpetuate the myth that Laffey has any chance of winning.
Anothony –
The “Laffey can’t win” is the soundbite / mantra du jour of the Chafee campaign, attempting to scare real Republicans into holding their nose and voting for Chafee in the primary by promoting the idea that a vote for Laffey is an exercise in futility.
It is false.
Laffey may be an underdog, but do you really believe that Sheldon Whitehouse will EXCITE anyone but the Democrat faithful and hard-core liberals????
If anything, Laffey has a BETTER chance of defeating Whitehouse than does Chafee.
All Chafee does is mirror Whitehouse, and if you’re inclined to vote liberal, then might as well vote for the real thing AND advance the prospects of the liberal party itself, i.e., Whitehouse and the Democrats.
Conversely, if you’re not inclined to vote “tax and spend” / pro-abortion etc. etc. then Laffey is your only alternative.
Plus he is a scrapper and has a personality, which RI’ers tend to be attracted to no matter the candidates positions or record (e.g., Buddy Cianci). Whereas Sheldon “Whitebread” Whitehouse is boring, un-dynamic and presents an agenda of nothing more than more tax and spend.

Greg
Greg
15 years ago

“Whereas Sheldon “Whitebread” Whitehouse is boring, un-dynamic and presents an agenda of nothing more than more tax and spend.”
That’s not true. According to his commercials, he has a plan to get the troops out of Iraq before he even takes office!

Rhody
Rhody
15 years ago

Laffey further strained his credibility by putting out the word that Chafee was bolting the party to run as an independent (and Chafee didn’t have the safety valve Joe Lieberman does, either). There’s a thin line between scrapper and thug, and Steverino has crossed the line so often it’s been erased from view.
Sure, Whitehouse has the personality of a thimble. But Rhode Islanders elected a barrel of good times called Claiborne Pell to the Senate six times. That wild and crazy Ed DiPrete got elected to three terms before the law caught up with him.
Would love to get people’s takes on the Lieberman situation – sounds like the mirror image of Chafee.

Greg
Greg
15 years ago

Joe,
All of your points regarding Chafee’s negatives are dead on. So why couldn’t we get a republican challenger to Chafee that hasn’t raised taxes on us and invited the illegal aliens to move in next to me and get sanctuary?

roadrunner
roadrunner
15 years ago

Anthony, Chafee is a “moderate” republican???
You’ve been reading WAY too much M. Charles Bakst!
beep beep

Will
15 years ago

A briefer response to Greg … don’t buy the Chafee campaign’s propaganda. Laffey had an unprecidented fiscal crisis to deal with and raised property taxes to cover a huge budget gap, when presented with too little time, and no other realistic alternatives. He didn’t have the leeway to run a deficit year to year, like the feds. He couldn’t cut contractually obligated spending. He didn’t want to raise taxes; the crisis situation forced him to do so. Laffey has clearly stated that he believes we tax and spend too much and will do what he can to change that.
As for Chafee, he simply doesn’t believe that the American people are taxed enough. Since he has been a member of the Senate, he has yet to vote for a tax cut. While he was Mayor of Warwick, he raised taxes 4 straight years in a row, without even having a fiscal crisis to deal with. His grand “solution” to solve the federal deficit is to raise taxes enough to “cover” the deficit, not to rein in federal spending, disregarding the impact on the economy. He has been one of the senate’s worst offenders regarding wasteful pork barrel spending. Despite his campaign’s propaganda, Chafee’s no “conservative,” fiscal or otherwise. He’s done.

Rhody
Rhody
15 years ago

I know it’s chic to Chafee-bash in our little salon here, but is this sentiment catching on with the electorate-at-large that doesn’t get into blogging as much as we all do? Ned Lamont may be a blogiverse phenomenon, but his chances of beating Joe Lieberman in the general are only slightly better than a snowball’s in hell, even if he wins the Dem primary.
I’m not counting out Laffey in the GOP primary, but he’ll have nowhere to go but down after primary day. I’m not sensing a groundswell toward him from people I talk to and deal with outside the most rabid followers of political inside baseball. Once voters learn that his populist talk is only a fig leaf for social conservatism, Democrats who may have been willing to look beyond Whitehouse (and vote for Chafee) won’t buy.
And really, has a Republican ever won statewide here with a party as badly fratcured as this? Much better GOP candidates than Laffey have failed statewide when there was no Democratic split to take advantage of.

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

Joe, Why do you just post things that are just plain factually wrong? You make comments that Chafee is just a liberal as any liberal Democrat, but every single independent evaluation of Chafee’s voting record, such as the National Journal, says just the opposite. He falls right in the middle. So show me a non-partisan ranking that justifies your assertion. Prove me wrong. You say that Laffey aligns himself with the taxpayers although he has no problem raising taxes when he feels it is “necessary”. The funniest comment that you made was that Laffey’s leadership and political savvy scares anyone. He’s LOSING by 30 POINTS. What scares me is the total LACK of political instincts shown by the Laffey campaign. It was only a few days ago Laffey’s people were predicting that Chafee was going to run as an Independent. Before that Laffey was saying that Matt Brown was in the Senate race for the duration and that he would wear down Whitehouse. I’ve never seen such a series of miscalculations and total lack of understanding of the RI electorate by such a well-funded campaign. You call Chafee “self-absorbed”. HELLO! He’s running against Steve Laffey, Webster’s definition of “self-absorbed”. Joe, if you’re going to make comments at least make them plausible and back them up with some facts that justify your comments. By the way, the taxpayer revolution and reform is not my worst nightmare. It is my dream. I just don’t see how electing Sheldon Whitehouse to office will do that. Rhody, I agree. I don’t know of many independents who say that they would vote for Laffey. And most of the independents that I know are to the right of center. As for the Lieberman race, there’s not much of a comparison. Don’t forget, Chafee is winning in… Read more »

Rhody
Rhody
15 years ago

Andrew, reasonable people can argue on whether opposing the partial-birth abortion ban is too liberal a position. But I’m not hearing Laffey make that case, at least not within Rhode Island borders. He probably already has hardcore Catholic voters, but the exposure of his abortion stance would cost him independents and moderates here. Once an opponent (Chafee or Whitehouse) smokes that out of him in a debate…
Should’ve stayed in Tennessee, Steve. Your act would play much better in the Bible belt.

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

Andrew, I agree with most of what you said- 1. Chafee would never have had a primary if he didn’t alienate the GOP conservative base. 2. Chafee is a liberal on some social issues, although contrary to the beliefs of some on this blog, his overall voting record is the definition of a moderate. 3. Some of the criticism directed at Chafee comes as the result of legitimate concerns about his position on issues, not just to “bash” him. 4. Laffey has put out some worthwhile proposals, notably his energy proposal, which while espoused by politicians in other states had yet to be adopted by anyone in Rhode Island. 4. Issues do matter. But at the end of the day, you can’t divorce politics from the issues anymore than you can divorce the issues from politics. Laffey is divisive and mercurial. Because of his temperment, he has problems leading in any but the most hierachical organization–which a democracy is most certainly not. Because of these reasons, Laffey has been like a lead weight in the polls. Rhode Islanders don’t particularly welcome his style of leadership and are not responding to his campaign. He is this year’s version of Brett Schundler: a self-made investment professional with a tin ear for what the electorate of his state is looking for. You may recall Schundler was praised as the guy who turned around Jersey City, an overwhelmingly Democrat city in dire financial straits. The only difference is that Schundler was more likeable and polled better among independents. In the end, Schundler’s only real legacy was losing a GOP-held governor’s seat. The seat went Democrat and a liberal Democrat remains in the office to this day. Every poll shows the same thing will happen if Laffey wins the primary. Sheldon Whitehouse will be the… Read more »

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

Tom W,
Excuse me, but I thought the whole point of voting was to elect a U.S. Senator, not to send a message.
Your approach is nihilistic. The message you want to send to senators like Snowe, Collins, McCain, Specter, etc. is that they should run as Democrats. That may drive out RINO’s, but the GOP can not afford to lose the number of senators that CFG labels as RINOs without permanently becoming the minority party.

Tom W
Tom W
15 years ago

Anthony,
Better a minority party that sticks to its principles than what we have now.
BTW, the point of voting in a primary is to choose the candidate that one believes would best represent the party.
>>Excuse me, but I thought the whole point of voting was to elect a U.S. Senator, not to send a message.
A Senator will be elected – the difference is will it be a Democrat, either by membership (Whitehouse) or de facto (Chafee) or at least somewhat Republican (Laffey).
It’s a classic dilemma – principles or pragmatism. I prefer to stick to my principles.
Besides, supporting Chafee isn’t even supporting the Republican Party – you obsess about permanent minority status. That is what the party had for decades by electing Chafee-like politicians. And it remained that way until the party started embracing the Reagan agenda.

Anthony
Anthony
15 years ago

Tom W,
The GOP gained majority status after the Democrats forgot that they needed to include moderate Democrats, not just liberal Democrats, in their party.
The result was that the “Solid South” became Republican after the South’s elected officials couldn’t pass the litmus tests required by the northeastern and left coast liberal elite. If the Democrats hadn’t screwed up so badly, we might still be the minority party.
You’re recommending Republicans follow the same losing approach.

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