February 6, 2006

National Review: "Dump Chafee," Choose Laffey

Marc Comtois

It's news when the editors of a major conservative/Republican publication endorse a candidate. As such, I think it worthwhile to post the editorial in its entirety for the benefit of Anchor Rising readers.

"I want to support President Bush's choice to the Supreme Court," said Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island on January 30. "The president did win the election."

It was a bizarre statement because Chafee not only refused to support Bush's most recent choice for the Supreme Court — he was the single Republican to oppose the confirmation of Samuel Alito — but also refused to support Bush's reelection in 2004. On Election Day, he wrote in the name of Bush's father, in "symbolic protest" of the current president's positions on abortion, gay marriage, oil drilling, tax cuts, and Iraq.

One wonders: Why is Chafee a Republican at all? The senator appears none too sure himself. In 2004, when USA Today asked whether he'd consider switching parties, Chafee replied, "I'm not ruling it out."

The life of a Rhode Island Republican certainly is not an easy one — John Kerry won the state by 21 points. It would be unreasonable to expect Chafee to earn a 100-percent rating from the American Conservative Union. Yet his lifetime score of 41 percent is pathetic. No Republican senator, including Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, ranks lower. In December, the Boston Globe observed that Chafee's "liberal positions would be well-suited for a centrist Democrat." True enough — except that several centrist Democrats actually supported Alito, putting them to the right of Chafee on one of the most important votes they will cast this year.

Lincoln Almond, the former governor who appointed Chafee to the Senate in 1999 — and a Republican who knows how to win elections in Rhode Island — said that he was "disappointed" in the senator's decision to oppose Alito. Indeed, Republicans in the Ocean State ought to be so thoroughly disappointed in Chafee by now that they refuse to vote for him this year.

The argument that conservatives should support Chafee rests entirely on the assumption that he's the only Republican who can win in Rhode Island. This logic may be what has led the National Republican Senatorial Committee to continue throwing resources behind him. The assumption may or may not be true, but, whatever the case, it is far from clear that the GOP — to say nothing of conservatives — gains anything from Chafee's continued presence in the Senate. When votes really matter, he can't be counted on. Positions such as the one he took on Alito allow Democrats and the media to speak of "bipartisan opposition" to the Bush administration. And if the GOP's majority ever depended on Chafee alone, there's every reason to believe he'd bolt the party, just as James Jeffords of Vermont did in 2001.

There is an alternative. Steven Laffey, the Republican mayor of Cranston, is running against Chafee in the September primary. His underdog campaign has shown both pluck and promise. Laffey has a track record of winning Democratic votes: That's the only way he could have been elected two times as mayor of Cranston, a city of about 80,000 residents, most of them Democrats. But on key issues, Laffey is a conservative: He supports tax cuts and the war in Iraq, opposes corporate welfare and other forms of wasteful spending, and is pro-life. The Club for Growth has decided to back him. His campaign has unfortunately chosen to bash "Big Oil" in some of its early advertising — but, as we said, it's difficult to be a Republican in Rhode Island.

Even if Laffey were to win the primary but lose the general election, beating Chafee would send a helpful message to the kind of Republican who thinks Chafee's "independence" is something to admire and emulate. (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine come to mind.) That message: that Republican voters will not be taken for granted just because they are in the minority in their state. Then there's the tantalizing possibility that Laffey might actually win both the primary and the general election. It's a chance worth taking. What do conservatives have to lose? The worst possible outcome is only that Rhode Islanders will trade a virtual Democrat for a real one.

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My reaction in one word: "Amen!"

Posted by: Tom W at February 6, 2006 10:48 AM

These kind of endorsements undoubtably reflect the hard work of this campaign to educate, educate, and educate some more. Issues-oriented press conferences, well-reasoned and TIMELY stands on each issue, and strong marketing efforts were all primary communication tools.

Laffey comes in as a decided underdog and eschews the standard negative attack ad approach that such a position usually engenders. Instead, the negative stuff is thrown out liberally by the other side, to no avail. Issues and integrity do matter with the citizenry - a lot more than so-called insiders tend to think.

I would also note just how little money this skinflint campaign has spent so far vis-a-vis Chafee and the democrats. If one runs a populist campaign focusing on issues, a slew of big money TV ads is not required. Negativism is what costs the big dollars. And Laffey is still a businessman who watches costs like a hawk. He is careful with his money and, most important, with other people's money. Just look at his record with the Morgan Keegan Focus List, which was highlighted by the WSJ as the best stock performance in the country.

Conservatives and moderates in RI and throughout the country have so much to be proud of with respect to this high-road campaign. And we are still in the early stages. Just wait until Steve Laffey gets out on the road and maximizes his 1-1 talents with the people!

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 6, 2006 11:57 AM

This National Review endorsement was well-written and well-argued; however, I would take issue with its characterization of Laffey's "bashing" big oil. His commentary on certain industries - oil, pharmaceuticals, sugar, and corn farming for example - centers on the egregious levels of federal government subsidies that are borne out of an unlevel lobbying playing field. The end result is $125 billion-plus in corporate welfare hand-outs that serve only to fatten a few wallets while stymying the overall economy generally and entrepreneurs specifically.

When I hear the word "bashing" associating certain politicians with oil companies I tend to also hear those politicians calling for socialist policies such as a windfall profits tax. I cannot imagine Steve Laffey ever calling for such a thing. He is not a basher, he is a reformer.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 6, 2006 12:19 PM


I'm looking for someone to briefly sum up the RI state political scene on a blog I run with a group of friends. We are trying to educate ourselves on the many states we know little about. I was hoping you'd be interested in doing so?

State politics open thread

I've been down to Providence a ton of times as I grew up not too far from the RI border in MA, but beyond Buddy Cianci, I don't know much about RI politics.

It looks like you're conservative. We span the whole spectrum from tree-hugging SF kid to Ann Coulter fanatic, so you'll receive plenty of welcoming statements and perhaps a good dose of intelligent criticism.

Hope to hear from you.

Posted by: Croaky at February 6, 2006 1:50 PM

It is nice to see this race get the national attention that it needs.
Chafee will run and lose in this primary if those of us who care get others to care also.
Remember Missing Linc is a Republican only because his father was. He would change parties in a heartbeat if he thought it would be like Jumping Jimmy Jeffords, and it would throw the ballance of the Senate to the Dems. Since it most likely won't, he stays. It is up to us to get him out of the Senate, now.

Posted by: jimmytheleg at February 6, 2006 5:01 PM

Sums it all up quite nicely, doesn't it? Really, what do we have to lose? I'm glad to see this race getting the national attention it deserves. More to come!

Posted by: Will at February 6, 2006 5:23 PM