The Republican primary for US Senate is, in many ways, a fight between the GOP of past and present. US Senator Lincoln Chafee is an heir to the dying tradition of Republican moderation. Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey, on the other hand — even though he self-servingly sets himself against the status quo of Washington, DC — represents the kind of orthodoxy manifest in the White House of George W. Bush. This includes unblinking support for the war in Iraq and for tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich, because — purportedly — a rising tide lifts all boats.
That the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is pouring money into Rhode Island to bolster Chafee’s reelection effort is one of the bigger ironies in this campaign. Yet although the senator can be a maddening figure to irate Republicans and sympathetic Democrats alike, he showed his chops as the only GOP senator to vote against the war and is a deficit hawk, a supporter of the environment and abortion-rights, and an opponent of government intrusion in private lives. While he seemingly lacks Laffey’s drive and comfort in his own skin — deficits that may yet prove politically fatal — Chafee upholds the moderate Republicanism once embodied by his late father. Since the country would be better off with this kind of thinking, rather than the prevailing reactionary ideology of Republicans in Washington, the Phoenix endorses Lincoln Chafee.
On the Democratic side, Sheldon Whitehouse has been spared the kind of bruising primary fight that cleared the path for Chafee’s election to the Senate in 2000. Carl Sheeler, a businessman and former Marine, has run a quixotic campaign with an anti-war platform, and perennial candidate Christopher Young of Narragansett is making simultaneous bids for mayor of Providence and US Senate. As has been reported in these pages, Whitehouse represents the best hope in many years of returning the “Chafee seat” to Democratic control. The Phoenix endorses Sheldon Whitehouse.
Second Congressional District
As a first-time candidate, Brown University professor Jennifer Lawless has run an energetic challenge to US Representative James R. Langevin, offering a contrast between her more liberal profile and the generally more socially conservative views of the three-term incumbent. Young, intelligent, likeable, and articulate, Lawless has the makings of someone who might enjoy a future in politics. Her time, however, has not yet arrived. The Phoenix endorses James R. Langevin.
While Lawless deserves plaudits for offering a choice to Democratic primary voters, her lack of professional experience ultimately undermines her appeal. Although intelligence and motivation are required to become a professor at an Ivy League institution, she has not made a compelling enough case to replace Langevin. (We differ strongly with the representative in his opposition to abortion-rights, but this single issue is not sufficient reason, particularly considering Langevin’s lengthy record in elective office, to back the challenger in this election.) As demonstrated by his vote against the war in Iraq, Langevin has done a generally diligent job for his constituents.
Elizabeth Roberts is, far and away, the best-qualified candidate running for lieutenant governor on either side of the aisle. Her intelligence, energy, compassion, humor, expertise in health-care, and knowledge of state government lead the Phoenix to lend her our enthusiastic endorsement.