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February 9, 2006
Chaffee Stacks Up Better Than Laffey In General Election

New polling numbers have shown that Stephen Laffey, the Not One Dime candidate for the GOP nomination in Rhode Island's Senate race, does not do as well against expected Democratic competition as does Lincoln Chaffee, the current incumbent and GOP gadfly. In preliminary polling, Chaffee holds a razor-thin edge against both Democrats, but Laffey trails both rather badly:

Chaffee/Whitehouse: 40%/34% (38%/25% in September)
Chaffee/Brown: 38%/36% (41%/18% in September)

Laffey/Whitehouse: 29%/44% (25%/35% in September)
Laffey/Brown: 24%/47% (26%/30% in September)

These numbers show a couple of issues. First, it demonstrates that Matt Brown has tremendous momentum right now against Sheldon Whitehouse. In four months, Brown turned a 32-16 deficit against the then-frontrunning Whitehouse into a 31-25 lead. His is the campaign that will give the GOP the biggest headache, apparently, and the numbers reflect that. Even the incumbency doesn't get Chaffee out of the margin of error against him, even though Chaffee at one time led Brown by 23 points, head to head.

Normally, one would look at the difference in the matchups between the two Republicans and determine that Chaffee was the better candidate for GOP support. However, in this case I disagree, for two reasons. The first is that if the Brown momentum continues, he is likely to out-poll the dry and dull Chafee by a considerable margin in the general election, and secondly Chafee's support for the national program of the GOP is so tepid that the loss will prove rather painless anyway. Chafee voted against the confirmation of Samuel Alito, joined the Gang of 14 last year, publicly announced that he would vote against his party's nominee for the White House in 2004, and in general has been a Republican out of convenience rather than any philosophical or true political connection.

If Brown remains ascendant, then the GOP needs to develop its bench in Rhode Island. Laffey comes much closer to the GOP mainstream than does Chafee, and so far the Republicans have no other stars on the horizon. The party needs to consider its post-Chafee options. Sinking tons of cash in a vain attempt to re-elect a Senator who rarely supports them when most needed seems almost masochistic, and actively attacking one of the few candidates that could one day replace him borders on the insane.

I know from discussions with people around DC that the White House considers Chafee worth supporting. As it was expressed to me, they would rather deal with a Senator who frequently frustrates them on the agenda than one who actively caucuses against them -- and that Chafee is lower-maintenance than some other GOP Senators with more popularity outside the Beltway. If Chafee was a lock for re-election, then perhaps the White House view should prevail, but if Chafee can't cut it in the general election, it's time to develop the bench. Perhaps the White House may find that by fully supporting Laffey, he might gain enough strength to overcome Brown by energizing Rhode Island conservatives who feel ignored by Chafee and the odd GOP support for his incumbency.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 9, 2006 5:49 AM

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