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Will Chafee Be The Next Moderate to Lose? (posted August 8, 2006)
With the Rhode Island primary coming up on September 12, all eyes are on the Ocean State. Senator Joe
Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut primary underscores a trend that has been unfolding for several
years now, the purging of moderates in both parties. Befitting the era of political polarization
in which we live, Democrats want a real Democrat and Republicans want leaders who stay true to
GOP principles. That dynamic cost Lieberman his party's nomination and now political observers
wonder whether the same fate will befall Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island.
Chafee is one of the few moderates left in the Republican party. He opposed the Iraq War and
voted against President George W. Bush's tax cuts. This has angered his Republican base and
led to a strenuous primary challenge from conservate Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston. Both
candidates have gone thermonuclear and launched a series of attack ads on the opponent. The
$64,000 question is whether Chafee survives the primary.
There are several factors that should help Chafee win the primary (though he ultimately may
lose the general election to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse). First is the fact that
Independents can vote in the GOP primary. With 50 percent of the state's electorate declaring
themselves to be Independent and with the ability of Independents to walk into the polling
place, declare themselves a Republican, and cast a vote, Chafee needs a big Independent vote
to fight back the Laffey challenge. If only traditional Republican voters turn out in the
primary, Chafee loses. However, with no competitive Democrat primary, look for large numbers
of Independents to vote in that primary. Those Independents probably will save Chafee in the
primary and keep him in the November running.
In addition, Chafee's stance against Iraq and against many of the domestic priorities of the
Bush Administration should shield him from the voter discontent that torpedoed Senator Lieberman.
Chafee is the Senate Republican most likely to vote against Bush, and this creates distance
between himself and the unpopular Republican president. Opponents will find no pictures of
Bush laying a kiss and friendly greeting on Chafee the way the president did Lieberman.
The last factor that helps Chafee in the primary is Laffey's high negatives. Recent polling
shows that of all the Senate candidates, Laffey has the highest unfavorable ratings. His
bomb-throwing political style has polarized the electorate and made it difficult for his
candidacy to catch on. Laffey supports the president's policies in several areas, and
this should insulate Chafee from a primary defeat.