August 24, 2006

The 4 Things I Took Away from Laffey/Chafee 3

Marc Comtois

After the third Laffey/Chafee debate, I went "black" and avoided all punditry. Thus, here are the four (uninfluenced) items that stuck with me after the debate last night.

First: Chafee's labeling of Federal tax dollars to local/state government--what Laffey calls "pork"--as "property tax relief" was pretty clever. Never heard that one before. And though Laffey tried to pooh-pooh it by saying he's never heard a voter praise Chafee for tax relief, I think it was a rather ingenius attempt to blunt the "pork" argument. I'm not sure if it worked, but it was at least original.

Second: Laffey's explanation about why he called for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. To paraphrase, "The administration went to war based on the worst case scenario and fought it based on a best case scenario." Simply put, a good sound bite. It was clearly aimed at the independents in both the primary and the general election. Whether or not they view it as a genuine feeling or political gamesmanship is an open question.

Third: Laffey won the debate, both on style and on the substantive issues. I suspect that this is especially true in the eyes of most GOP members. However, while Laffey scored some points amongst the independents, Chafee probably did enough to keep a hold of most of them. If this were a debate prior to the general election, Chafee would have come out looking better. But it's not.

Fourth: Because this was on C-SPAN, I couldn't help but wondering what the average conservative Republicans across the land must have been thinking while watching the debate. Perhaps something like, "Those are what they call Republicans in Rhode Island?"

Most national political junkies--those most likely to watch a GOP debate in tiny, Democrat dominated RI on C-SPAN in the summer--probably knew that Lincoln Chafee is a moderate Republican who seems to enjoy being the far outlier of the GOP. However, I don't think that the idealized "typical GOP" member was aware of Steve Laffey's populist bent. He called for Rumsfeld's resignation, accused the GOP run Federal government of corruption, and railed against "Big Oil", to give a few examples.

Whether we in Rhode Island realize it or not, President Bush still has strong support in the GOP base across the country. What that base saw were two "Republicans" doing their damndest to distance themselves from a President of their own party (Glenn Reynolds makes a good point about this tactic. MAC); a President that most national GOP members agree with on most of the issues (Believe it, it's true!). I don't think they are envious of the choice that RI Republicans have to make in September. When viewed through the lens of what a "typical" conservative Republican might be, neither Laffey nor Chafee fits the bill.

But this isn't Kansas: this is a uniquely Rhode Island race. Those of us who have been following it understand that both of these candidates are trying to do two things at once. They have to run against each other in the GOP primary and keep an eye on the Independent-dominated general electorate. That's something that probably can't be fully appreciated in other parts of the country. After all, what other state's largest voting block doesn't identify itself with either political party? Rhode Islanders like to take their cue from the Independent Man standing atop the State House. It would seem that--regardless of who they elect in the GOP primary--they'll have that Man, in one form or another, to support in the general election.

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Excellent analysis, Marc.

1. I'm not sure the "property relief" thing is all that original. Three words: Narragansett Indian Tribe.

2. Rumsfeld should leave because he's been in the position too long, and someone needs to be held accountable. Who better than the Secretary of Defense.

3. I certainly think Laffey won the debate, too. The problem for Linc is that independents may not have exactly been "rallied" to come out for Linc. He spent an awful lot of time trying to get us to believe that he is a "good Republican." Probably didn't lose too many, but sincerely doubt he gained any either.

4. If you would like an "average conservative Republican" view from elsewhere, I received a pithy one by e-mail late last night from Oklahoma. I went in part like this:
"I did see the debate and feel real good about it. Of course, in OK we have gays that are more manly than Linc, and I wonder if he has a spine that was not borrowed from NARAL."

Posted by: Will at August 24, 2006 8:21 AM

Not that this would ever be discussed on such a one-sided blog, but did anyone happen to notice that an independent poll by Channel 12/Fleming Assoc. came out that shows Laffey at his lowest point since the election began?

He is now trailing Whitehouse by 32 POINTS and Chafee has moved ahead to pull even in the general election.

I'm revising my predcition from yesterday when I said Chafee would be Whitehouse by 5 and Laffey would lose to Whitehouse by 15.

I think Chafee will win by 10 and Laffey would lose by 22 to Whitehouse. Basically, I think there will be a 10 point swing.

OK, this poll may not be as credible as the poll that Marc referred to yesterday, where we don't know who took it, any of the numbers or what questions were asked.... but were all told to believe that Laffey was ahead. Still it is interesting.

Posted by: Anthony at August 24, 2006 8:28 AM

Yes, the poll without a sample size or a statistically determined margin of error ... Think we're worried? Not.

A "general election" poll BEFORE a primary is utterly meaningless, because it does not take into consideration how people who currently support one or the other Republican candidates will actually vote in real life, only HOW they would prefer to vote. Best I can tell, I don't even know if it made the distinction between "likely voters" and "registered voters." It's worthless snapshot, quick-fix, looks good at 11pm polling at its worst.

Posted by: Will at August 24, 2006 8:59 AM

Hey Anthony,

Go back to 2004 and find me a single poll that said Laffey would win the primary by a 3:1 margin, will ya?

Polls are useless. Especially when people like me LIE to pollsters when they call. It's my little piece of anarchy.

Posted by: Greg at August 24, 2006 9:11 AM

Also, the Channel 12 poll was a "push poll," which are notoriously unreliable.

Posted by: John Shelby at August 24, 2006 9:42 AM

The slack-jawed, drooling yokels that are the Rhode Island voter seem to like that Chafee is a nice, soft-spoken dolt.

The good news is that everyone noticed how stilted and ridiculous the soon-to-be former Senator from Rhode Island looked up there with his carefully scripted flash cards. I bet they were even color coded for him.

Posted by: Greg at August 24, 2006 9:51 AM

Push polls are polls that ask leading question to achieve a desired response.

Example: "Lincoln Chafee voted to raise taxes. Steve Laffey pledges that he won't raise taxes. In the upcoming Republican primary, who will you vote for Lincoln Chafee or Steve Laffey?"

Push polls are usually conducted by campaigns, not by independent new organizations.

Do you have ANY evidence whatsoever that the Channel 12 poll was a push poll? If so, please post it and enlighten us.

Posted by: Anthony at August 24, 2006 10:04 AM

Guys, you'd all be better off sticking to the "polls don't matter line". The reality is that general election polling in RI is fairly easy to do and usually accurate. But let's not face that reality, life is easier when you're in denial.....

Posted by: Anthony at August 24, 2006 10:07 AM

"life is easier when you're in denial....."

You'd know. You've been telling yourself that your guy is a republican all this time.

Posted by: Greg at August 24, 2006 10:09 AM

Regarding the poll thing: again, the reason the mystery insider poll was interesting was because it was the first to show a Laffey lead. As for the latest Channel 12 poll, it seems odd to offer up a poll composed of opinions made before a debate after you just broadcasted the debate. Regardless, I will take a look at the NEXT poll more closely (whether it's a general election one or not) because it will be the first one made after a widely publicized, television debate.

Also, thanks for calling us a one-sided blog. That would be the conservative side.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at August 24, 2006 10:13 AM

"Chafee will be Whitehouse by 5...."

I knew they were the same person.

Posted by: slack jaw at August 24, 2006 10:23 AM

"That would be the conservative side."

You might want to explain what that word means as it's been long lost to the rank and file Republicans in this state who believe that "Republican" means "Just to the right of Howard Dean".

Posted by: Greg at August 24, 2006 10:40 AM

That's what we try to do every day here at Anchor Rising.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at August 24, 2006 10:46 AM

It's like watching a Democratic Senate primary in the South - you watch from up here and say to yourself, "This is the liberal party?"
Laffey gets more conservative when the cameras are shut off and he leaves the state. Just wonder how his faux populism played with the national audience.

Posted by: Rhody at August 24, 2006 11:13 AM

You can be both a conservative and a populist. They are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by: Will at August 24, 2006 11:53 AM

Will, that's debatable. I'm not going to get into it now, but I've documented the debate of others elsewhere, here and here. A bit on heavy on the political philosophy side, but I figure that you and others will find it interesting.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at August 24, 2006 12:05 PM

This may surprise you guys but I think the result of the debate was another draw, and possibly an outright loss for Laffey. I say this as constructive criticism. My wife is a good barometer. She is nine leagues to my right in political thinking, and most people consider the senescent man to the right of Atilla the Hun, (I speak in the third person in jest)...

Anyway, Laffey's walking away from a few fights on the war is one thing I was greatly bothered by. I think Chafee did a good job boxing Laffey in and making him sound somewhat hypocritcal by being for the war, and for Bush and then against Bush and against Rumsfeld. I don't think that played well.

Also, the more subtle things. I think Chafee's handlers indeed need to tell him to stop using his hands, but they handled and prepared him well for this debate. He looked good. Laffey on the other hand was dressed like a mafioso. And you can't keep saying "look folks." It's patronizing. Maybe in a boardroom you can get away with that, and maybe in some districts in the US you can get away with that, but in RI you are considered a jerk.

Laffey's handlers need to add some women to their staff to consider the look and feel of their candidate. Listen, I want the guy to win. He's not going to win unless he shows a softer, gentler side. I was hoping to see it. I saw glimpses of it when he spoke forthrightly about Chafee being a good family man. It sounded sincere. But the rest was too gruff. I know he wants to show that he's not going to take any bull, and the Chafee is slow to decide, and all that. But it is not appealing in and of itself.

I did like the analogy in the closing remarks about pitching the fastballs. But if the 4th debate is like this, he may eek out in the primary because Republicans want a real Republican in the Senate and not a RINO, but only to find himself to lose the general election. He needs a broader perspective IMHO.

Am I wrong? Laffey supporters, I know we want to say he won. And handlers should be doing that. I agree. But constructively, doesn't he need an adjustment??

Posted by: Chuck at August 24, 2006 4:38 PM

Sorry, I always thought conservatives advanced the conservative agenda, not helped elect Democrat majorities. What was I thinking?

Posted by: Anthony at August 24, 2006 4:40 PM

Chuck, I agree with you on Laffey's appearance.

Did Laffey's people allow him to go on camera without makeup or was he sick? He did not look good at all.

Laffey looked a lot like the picture the Chafee uses in the "the elderly are getting older and dying" spot. Why would Laffey go on TV like that?

I thought Chafee looked better and his hand gestures didn't bother me (they were nowhere near as bad as Carcieri's), but what's with talking in the third person?

Everytime he spoke, I kept thinking to myself, "Bob Dole likes Senator Chafee".

So, here are my words of advice:

Laffey staffers: buy some makeup or get your guy to a tanning salon.

Chafee staffers: have your guy drop the third person thing.

John Mulligan: comb your hair and show up sober to the next debate.

Posted by: Anthony at August 24, 2006 4:54 PM

Hey, easy on Mulligan - he's an ink-stained print wretch. He's not one of these pretty boys and girls that spends more time on gaseous cable gabfests than he does churning out copy for his paper (and/or Web site). If your impression of print journalists comes from the elite, well-dressed, well-coiffed folks you see on TV all the time, no wonder Muligan came across to you as drunk.

Posted by: Rhody at August 24, 2006 6:32 PM

There is no question that Laffey conservative credentials change based on who he is addressing. When abortion came up during the debate, not once did he mentinon that he considers himself to be pro-life. Don Carcieri would have. Jim Langevin would have. We're still in the Republican primary and Laffey was scared to say "pro-life".

Immigration? No problem if you don't like my position, I've got another one for you.

Taxes? He opposes raising them even though he was 'forced' to do it in Cranston.

Contributions to Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Jim Sasser? Well, he needed money to give to left-wing Democrats to advance his career. And guess what? He says "I'd do it again".

I think Laffey is more conservative than Chafee, but I really don't know his core set of beliefs other than promoting himself.

A bunch of folks have asked me why I'm not supporting Laffey if I'm conservative. My response is that a Laffey primary will give the Democrats the majority.

But I have to say, my decision is made that much easier because I don't believe that a Senator Laffey is going to fight for a conservative agenda anyway.

I think once he gets what he needs from the conservative base, he would do what it takes to keep himself in office and appeal to the moderate RI voter.

Look at this recent debate. Laffey hammered Bush, backed off the abortion issue, called for Rumsfeld's resgination ....and this was in a Republican PRIMARY debate. Heck, he accused CHAFEE of being too close to Bush.

Now some people on this blog have questioned my conservativsm. But I can say this. My conservative credentials are more solid than Steve Laffey.

And yes, I take my chances with Bill Frist as majority leader....even though Steve Laffey gave to the Democrat who ran against him.

Posted by: Anthony at August 25, 2006 7:10 AM

Anybody see Laffey on Hardball this afternoon? Laffey stated that he is "not a conservative" after Matthews brought up his credentials. Does this concern any of his backers on this site?

Posted by: Hayden at August 25, 2006 8:24 PM

I thought Laffey did great on Hardball tonight. He certainly made an impression on Chris Matthews -- he was downright effusive in his praise of Laffey afterwards.

As for what label Mayor Laffey chooses to apply (or not) to himself, I'm frankly not all that concerned about it. Chafee's been calling himself a "Republican" for many years; it hasn't seemed to affect him any. I care about what Laffey says he will do; not what he will call it. I've been to several events over the last year or so where he has said the exact same thing. While he is certainly "more conservative" than his opponent, I think he would find the term "conservative" to be too limiting or something that could easily be subject to misinterpretation by Rhode Islanders, who might attach a more negative connotation to it (like how we think of the term "liberal").

His heroes are Lincoln - Teddy Roosevelt - Reagan, basically making him a hybrid populist conservative, if that's even a term. He doesn't fit any strict definition, but views himself as more of a "populist," which is fine by me. When asked by Chris Matthews what kind of Senator that he would like to be like, his answer was pork-busting Senator Dr. Tom Coburn (R-OK). If he had said Arlen Specter or Olympia Snowe, then yes, alarm bells would have started to ring over here. Whatever he calls what he is, I'd easily prefer it over what we have now.

Posted by: Will at August 26, 2006 1:17 AM

I am worried about this if it is a new strategy - though I suspect someone will say it has been a consistent strategy from the start, but I'm concerned Laffey is falling prey to the tendency to want to be all things to all people, and as a result, has fallen into the hands of the hyper-anti-Bush Entertainment wacko Lardball.

I can't stand that guy.

He makes himself out to be more conservative than the average liberal talking head, when in fact he's just as bad or worse than they are.

And it may be why Chris Lardball was so enamored of Steve. Steve portrays himself as both a conservative and a populist at the same time. That's sort of okay, except there is a danger when that populism rolls into the side streets of liberalism.

If Laffey is a Reaganite, (and I think he is) he should recall that Reagan was proud to call himself conservative. In fact most people identified with that. Even RI Democrats.

I just think he's on a questionable path, and it seems to be coming at the end of his campaign with Chafee.

Don't get me wrong, I wish Laffey well. I'm rooting for him. I even expect him to defeat Chafee. But I am now deeply concerned about his approach. Someone may be giving him bad advice. I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe this approach will backfire.

I say this as well meaning constructive criticism.

Posted by: Chuck at August 26, 2006 10:49 AM