The road to September
A recent Rhode Island College poll of likely Republican voters, with a six percent margin of error, shows Chafee with a one-point edge over Laffey, although Chafee’s lead steadily grows with greater percentages of unaffiliated voters.

The primary fight comes after various Republicans tried to dissuade Laffey from challenging Chafee. Asked why the mayor pursued the Senate seat, rather than running for general treasurer or lieutenant governor, Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University, says, “Blind ambition. The guy wants it now. He doesn’t want to wait four years. He could have run for lieutenant governor this time and been very competitive and been in a position to run for governor in four years, and he simply didn’t want to wait that long.”

West points to the Rhode Island College survey in contending that Laffey’s message has yet to resonate beyond his Republican base. “He’s a polarizing figure,” West notes. “People either love him or they hate him, and it may help him to do well in the Republican primary, but it’s going to be very difficult for him to compete statewide in a general election.”

For his part, Laffey dismisses the notion of state office, asking, “Who has ever thought about running for lieutenant governor?” He cites his Senate campaign as his logical next step and evinces not a single doubt. Mustering some of the hardiness that has helped him to maintain a tradition of GOP moderation, Chafee projects similar confidence.

Democrats, of course — whose own internal battle smoothed Chafee’s path to victory in 2000 — are relishing the Republican infighting. This explains why Patricia Morgan, executive director of the Rhode Island Republican Party, who is among those expecting a very close race between Chafee and Laffey, plainly says, “I hate primaries.”  

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Ian Donnis: idonnis@phx.com

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