Recapping Chafee/Laffey 2006
A long time ago (November of 2004, or so), we at Anchor Rising started talking about whether or not Senator Chafee would be facing any real opposition in 2006. Part of this was out of a desire to see another Republican who, as Justin Katz wrote, didn’t hem and haw so much. I wanted someone who would be a little more, well, serious, and willing to take a principled, conservative stance — including supporting a President of his own party on key issues — every now and then. And we weren’t just talking about his opposition to the Iraq War or tax policy. Even on secondary issues, he could be aggravating. Case in point: His very “democratic” opposition to the Electoral College, which I took him to task for, as did Justin. At the same time, I wondered if the RI GOP would become more effective, and Justin reported that change was indeed afoot with Steve Laffey as one of the agents.
Thus, lo’ and behold, the waters began to roil, and the seas began to change (as metaphors begin to mix), and talk of real opponents for the good Senator began to percolate. Rep. James Langevin was an early favorite and was mentioned at National Review. This inspired Justin to wonder if it might be worth it to “clear the decks” by voting for anybody but Chafee (well, except Patrick K.). Of course, I had to add my 2 cents and discussed a variety of “what if?” scenarios centered around the speculation that Langevin would oppose Chafee. And then, in the back of the room, Mayor Laffey began raising his hand.
While the postulations about his potential primary opponents were coming to the fore, Senator Chafee opposed the Bush Administrations “Clear Skies” initiative (and offered his own), explained why tax increases lay at the heart of his Social Security reform measures, and also displayed his deliberative dutifulness by see-sawing around the first nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador (and he’s doing it again) and standing up as the lone Republican to vote against Priscilla Owen to the Court of Appeals. All of this inspired Mac Owens to pen the Senator a letter.
Meanwhile, back here in Rhode Island, Mayor Laffey was hosting a radio show and talking to the likes of the East Greenwich School Committee about the nature of contract talks with teachers. He was also causing me some concern about his conservative credentials with his acceptance of the Mexican and Guatemalen Matricula Consular identification cards. Amidst all of this, a “Draft Laffey” movement erupted and elicited comment from national pundit Hugh Hewitt. I opined that I thought the movement had less to do with the viability of Laffey as a Senate candidate than with a general dislike for Chafee and also went on record as saying I distrusted the “cult of personality” that seemed to surround the Mayor.
Andrew Morse explained the unsuccessful efforts made by the RI GOP to convince Steve Laffey to run for a state-level office and not the U.S. Senate. Andrew also wondered “what strings [were] attached” (all for Chafee?) to an early $500,000 donation to the state GOP from the national party.
Don Hawthorne then offered his own “Reflections on Chafee, Laffey, Party Politics & the Future of Rhode Island,” in which he dismissed Chafee (“What is the big deal if Senator Chafee loses in 2006?”) and suggested that Mayor Laffey could put his talents to better use by running for a statewide office — like Treasurer — and thus help rebuild the Republican party in Rhode Island. But Mayor Laffey decided to run for the Senate anyway, and Senator Chafee said that he’d “take great satisfaction in ending” Mayor Laffey’s political career. And the gloves were off!!!
With the Laffey/Chafee race off and running, I expressed a hope that the Laffey campaign could help lead to reform within the RI GOP. (Now I have a few doubts.) Don also weighed in and explained that, while most recognized that Senator Chafee was a lost cause to conservatives, Mayor Laffey’s conservative bona fides needed a little vetting as his views on healthcare and energy demonstrated political opportunism over a principled, conservative vision.
Senator Chafee realized he couldn’t appeal to the the GOP base in Rhode Island (yes, even in Rhode Island, it’s conservative) and actively sought to woo Democrats (as “Independents”) into the GOP primary, with the help of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. At this point, I tried to sum up where the Laffey/Chafee race stood. (And after re-reading that post, not much has changed in a year!) I also delved into the difference between ideological and political motivation in electoral politics.
In December, as the National Republican Senatorial Committee explained why non-Republicans were the key to electing Chafee, Mayor Laffey garnered the support of the Club for Growth. It was also revealed that Mayor Laffey had donated to Democrats in the past and that he had a penchant for pixelization. Justin was critical of the sophomoric mindset that resulted in Laffey’s pixel problem and then felt it necessary to clarify to the “you’re either with ’em or agin ’em” crowd that criticism of a candidate didn’t equate to non-support. Additionally, Mayor Laffey clarified that, just like Senator Chafee, he was opposed to drilling in ANWR. Thus, they do, in fact, agree on something.
The new year brought a ratcheting up of Mayor Laffey’s War on “Pork” and more deliberate deliberation from Senator Chafee, this time on the confirmation of now-Justice Alito. After everyone else had voted, he was the sole Republican to say “No“; Laffey said he would have said “Yes,” and I discussed why this vote showed that Senator Chafee wasn’t even a Moderate Republican and that I simply couldn’t support him. Then National Review endorsed Laffey and the Chafee camp responded.
This spring brought polls (too many to link to!), anti-Laffey ads, anti-Chafee ads, and more tete-a-tete.
Senator Chafee was environmentally consistent in supporting the Cape Wind Project (as did Laffey — hey, that’s two things they agree on). Chafee also voted against pork (yes, really) in the Senate and voted against allowing Hawaii to set up a racially based government. For his part, Mayor Laffey offered up his own school choice program and a tax plan. Both candidates also revealed their differences over their policies toward Israel and immigration reform.
In June, Justin braved the RI GOP convention and managed (barely) to stay awake as Senator Chafee was officially endorsed while Mayor Laffey stayed away. Andrew dissected the Laffey and Chafee approaches toward immigration (1, 2, 3). And Senator Chafee continued to pound on the central point of his entire Senate campaign: Laffey can’t beat Whitehouse. This prompted me to ask if conservative and moderate Republicans (and independents) could unite after this tendentious GOP primary to keep Sheldon “Picnic” Whitehouse out of the Senate.
Later in the summer, a debate schedule was announced, and our own Aggregatin’ Andrew produced recaps of ’em all.
Debate number 1 was held on the Arlene Violet Show, and Andrew summarized the opening statements and the candidate’s views on illegal immigration, war and the Middle East, a cross-examination, taxes and spending, and a few other matters. Then Andrew followed up on the ProJo’s post-debate follow-up and then followed up again.
Debate 2 was on the Dan Yorke Show (audio here: 1, 2, 3, 4), and Andrew posted on Politics and Punditry, the Ad-Wars (1 & 2), and Issues.
For Debate 3, which was sponsored by WPRI (debate transcript is here) and broadcast nationally on C-SPAN (debate video as well as candidate ads can be found here), Andrew offered an open forum as well as some summaries on the budget, immigration and foreign policy. I also offered my own post-debate thoughts.
Then a little dirty pool was played when some of Mayor Laffey’s college writings mysteriously found their way into the lap of the ProJo, and Justin sought some clarification from the Mayor.
Finally, WJAR sponsored Debate 4 (Part 1, Part 2, and Bill Rappleye’s Recap found here), and Andrew posted an open thread and summaries of the lightning round and the three panel portions of the debate (1, 2, 3).
Senator Chafee and the NRSC got into hot water over a pro-Chafee commercial that included imagery of Hispanic illegal (purportedly) immigrants that seemed to saddle them with being a threat to national security. The ad was pulled (eventually), after (as the ProJo noted) the ad had run its predetermined course.
With two weeks to go before the primary, Don concluded that neither Chafee nor Laffey had measured up to the “political greatness” test. On the other hand, Justin’s early doubts about Mayor Laffey’s demeanor seem to have been allayed by the Mayor’s debate performances.
With a week to go, both Chafee and Laffey have received national exposure while negative ads are dominating the airwaves and polls give us no hint as to who will emerge victorious. For that, we’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday.