Lieberman Redux in Rhode Island?
WARWICK, R.I. -- Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey doesn't run for office, he bounds -- up steps, across lawns, in his quest to unseat Rhode Island's incumbent senator, Lincoln Chafee, in next Tuesday's primary.Similar but very different.
"If one of the other candidates knocks on your door, vote for that guy, but they won't," the 44-year-old Laffey assures voters. He's accompanied by his wife, four of his five children and a posse of high school friends, all decked out in trademark Laffey yellow and blue, right down to the double stroller for the youngest Laffeys and his wife's custom-made "Laffey 2006" Converses. (The candidate, who has a Harvard MBA and isn't shy about mentioning it, read a study finding this the optimal color scheme for communicating.)
Is Steve Laffey to Linc Chafee as Ned Lamont was to Joe Lieberman?The Republican establishment for Chafee.
Once again an incumbent senator who often breaks with his own party -- this time a Republican -- could find himself toppled. Once again, the opponent is an energetic businessman-turned-politico, milking discontent among the base and disgust with Washington. Once again, outside groups -- in Connecticut the liberal blogs, here the anti-tax Club for Growth -- are stoking voter anger.
It was inevitable, then, that Laffey-Chafee would be cast as the GOP replay of the Connecticut Democratic primary. Yet the analogy goes only so far. The Rhode Island race is more complex, certainly odder and potentially far more momentous.
For angry Democratic voters, a Lamont vote was all but risk-free. Rhode Island is Connecticut with consequences: A Laffey nomination in this heavily Democratic state could imperil GOP control of the Senate. A general election race between the Democratic nominee, former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, and a bruised Chafee promises to be close. But nearly the only one who thinks Laffey would beat Whitehouse is Laffey. "I'll crush him," he asserts.
Hence the spectacle of the Washington Republican establishment rushing to the defense of a man who voted against all the Bush tax cuts, the war in Iraq, the Medicare prescription drug plan and Justice Samuel Alito, and who favors gay marriage and abortion rights and opposes the death penalty for Osama bin Laden.As I said the other day the problem for the Republicans is that if Laffey wins the primary it is a sure Senate loss for the Republicans.
The Republican Senate campaign committee has plowed hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race, savaging Laffey with ads as brutal as those deployed against any Democrat. One particularly ugly anti-immigrant spot attacks Laffey's acceptance of Mexican matricula cards as identification. (No matter that Laffey opposes the Senate immigration bill -- which Chafee backed -- as too permissive.)
As I said the other day the problem for the Republicans is that if Laffey should win the primary he doesn't have one chance in hell of winning in November giving the Democrats a pick up.
A recent poll showed that Laffey is ahead of Chafee 51% to 34% less then two weeks before the election. Another poll shows that the Democrat, Sheldon Whitehouse, would beat Laffey 55% to 25%. Whitehouse and Chafee were in a statistical dead heat.