Given this division between red and blue states, and hot-button issues, how much of an opportunity is there for the kind of reconciliation that Obama has talked about?
That’s going to be a big task, to reach out to the red states, because his supporters are going to be adamant that he stick to a more liberal agenda. He wants, as he said during his 2004 [Democratic National] Convention speech before he became a senator, to try to bring Americans together. If he wanted to pick an issue that every American wants, an energy policy of raising mileage standards on cars, or something along those lines, common sense, doing something about climate change and getting in the forefront of technology to burn coal cleanly. I think that that would be the smart way to get some momentum, and then get into the more contentious issues — health-care. Get some victories early.
What recommendations would you offer to Rhode Island Republicans to be more successful on a statewide basis?
We’ve tried so hard, and I have to acknowledge that we’ve been successful in winning the governor’s race. But I think it’s just getting more and more difficult. Even Governor Carcieri won by a surprisingly small amount, barely made it in ’06, and it doesn’t look like there’s any kind of Republican candidates stepping up. We see that in this election — no viable challenge to Reed, Langevin, or Kennedy from the Republican Party. My own decision was to leave the party, and I made that very, very carefully, with a lot of thought. So I can’t give any more advice to the Republican Party. I mean, they primaryed me. Here I was, a sitting Republican United States senator, and I had to fight off a primary, and to have spend the $3 million I had to spend in the primary caused me the seat.
The party establishment supported you . . .
Somebody funded my opponent, someone poured in the $3 million, or whatever it was that they spent. But I would speak to my loyal Republican groups, and say to them, ‘Do you think Steve Laffey can win the general election?’ And they’d say, ‘No.’ So why are you voting for him? ‘I just want to send a message,’ that kind of thinking. It didn’t make any sense to me.
Speaking of Steve Laffey, he appears to be gearing up for a gubernatorial run in 2010. Does he have the ability to win a gubernatorial election in Rhode Island? I can’t see that. It would take some exceptional circumstances of splitting up the electorate. I just can’t see a right-wing candidate doing well in Rhode Island in a general [election].
We’re two years beyond your election loss in 2006. With the benefit of some more hindsight, what lessons do you draw from that?
It seems so far away [laughs]. Lessons? We talked about the primary. In America, anybody’s free to run — I don’t begrudge that — but it’s the money. The money that came in that I had to duel with these groups pouring in the money, and what were they thinking that now they’ve got a Democratic seat for who knows how much longer? I never under-stood what intelligent, rational person is sending millions of dollars to knock off a Republican when you’re sure that the Democrat will be there for who knows, as I said, how long.