Can Laffey Win?

Last November I selected Steven Laffey as Not One Dime’s official candidate of the 2006 elections in his attempt to unseat Republican incumbent Lincoln Chafee. At the time, the task of beating Chafee seemed Herculean. Now, however, it looks like Laffey may have overtaken Chafee and garnered a commanding lead heading into the primary on September 12th:

U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee may lose his seat to challenger Steve Laffey, according to a new statewide Republican primary voter poll released today by the Bureau of Government Research and Services at Rhode Island College.
The survey was conducted August 28-30, 2006, at Rhode Island College by Victor L. Profughi, director of the Bureau of Government Research and Services. It is based on a statewide random sample of 363 likely Republican primary voters in Rhode Island. The sample was proportioned among the state’s geographic regions to reflect the likely voter contribution from each portion of the state. Overall, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points.
If the September 12 primary were held today, 51 percent say they will vote for Steve Laffey, 34 percent support Senator Chafee, and 15 percent are undecided. A BGRS survey of Republican voters conducted in June had Laffey at 39 percent and Chafee at 36 percent. Chafee’s base is virtually unchanged since the June survey, while the number of Laffey supporters has grown 12 percentage points.

It appears from the changes between polls that Chafee hit his high-water mark early, and that he no longer has the confidence of mainstream Rhode Island Republicans. When an incumbent can’t top 50%, we know he has serious problems. When his opponent tops 50%, it generally means he’s through.
The demographics tell the story. Chafee only holds a lead in the urban area of Providence (13 points) and the East Bay (4 points). Laffey leads everywhere else in the state, even in Providence’s suburbs, and that by over 20 points. He leads Chafee among men by 26 points, and among women by 9, although he does not have a majority of the latter. This comes from a small sample — 363 likely voters does not seem impressive — but it does give a clear indication that Chafee’s in deep trouble for his re-election bid.
Laffey could well be on his way to knocking off one of the least Republican Republicans in Congress. Will he have enough juice to win the seat in the general election? Rhode Island College doesn’t answer that question in its polling. Rasmussen’s poll in July had Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse beating both Republicans, but that may soon change if Laffey can keep building momentum.