Centrist Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) withstood a heated primary challenge on Tuesday from conservative Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, winning 54 percent to 46 percent thanks to record turnout spurred by a national party-led get out the vote effort.
Chafee's win was in part due to the support of the National Republican Senatorial
Committee (NRSC) and the White House despite a track record of bucking his party and President Bush. The more than 63,000 voters who turned out trumped the prior record of 45,000.
Laffey was backed by the conservative Club for Growth and made a name for himself as a brash and energetic campaigner who surprised many by making it a race against Chafee, the son of the late Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) who took his father's seat in 1999.
Chafee now faces Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who expectedly cruised to victory in the Democratic primary. Whitehouse is a former state attorney general who now looks to benefit from Chafee's bruising primary, in which the senator admitted to apprehension about going negative on Laffey.
The NRSC indicated last week that it wouldn't support Laffey if he won the primary, citing polls showed Laffey 30 points behind Whitehouse in the general election. Chafee has polled neck and neck with the Democrat.
While Senate Republican strategists were breathing a sigh of relief following Chafee's win, House GOP operatives were disappointed that Republican Randy Graf won a contested primary for retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe's (R-Ariz.) seat. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and Kolbe endorsed centrist Steve Huffman, but Graf beat him by 6 percentage points.
The Rhode Island Senate primary captured the most attention this week after the NRSC hammered Laffey with millions of dollars of negative ads. Laffey's loss is a defeat for the Club for Growth, which backed his candidacy and had won a victory last month when it helped defeat incumbent GOP Rep. Joe Schwarz (
"Chafee's independent, honest leadership drove historic turnout and clearly shows he's in a great position to win in November," said Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the NRSC.
Not surprisingly, Democrats read the tea leaves differently.
"When Chafee can barely win his own primary, you know he'll have trouble in the general election," said Sen. Charles Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Comment: The Rhode Island Republican Senatorial Primary election demonstrates the two issues: the overreaching influence of the Executive Branch into the Legislative Branch and the abuse of big money. The founders were clear about the separation between the branches of government and this is why the States had the right to elect their Senator; not the people, special interest groups, or the President of the
The second issue, abuse of big money, should be of additional concern because the money that supported Lincoln Chaffee’s victory was financed by National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). This is the oligarchy protecting its position. Unfortunately without an understanding of the 17th Amendment this issue slides by without even one media personality grasping the significance.
The Legislative Branch is compromised and until the people of this country realize the corruption, elections like the one in