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Rhode Island

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 6, 2006 Update:

Sheldon Whitehouse (D) will unseat Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R). It’s often forgotten that the Ocean State is the nation’s most Democratic, and that’s just about the only reason we believe Chafee will suffer a narrow defeat at the hands of Whitehouse in just a few days. But here, we emphasize narrow: Chafee is a strong closer, and we could see a surprise Election Night nail-biter early on here in this must-win state for Democrats.

September 15, 2006 Update:

Tuesday’s 47 percent showing by charismatic conservative mayor Steve Laffey against Sen. Lincoln Chafee is further evidence of the GOP base’s flammability (read the latest Crystal Ball article for more angry politics), and Chafee goes into the general election campaign against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse–whose father, incidentally, was Chafee’s father’s roommate at Yale–without any significant momentum.

August 2, 2006 Update:

Again, the Crystal Ball is very tempted to change this rating to Leans Democratic. We will resist the impulse until after the Republican primary; if Senator Lincoln Chafee can defeat Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey by a wide margin, then perhaps he can regain some momentum and secure a new term. But, it will take something substantial back into a commanding position in this race. Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is in a good position to score an upset. It is just too early to say whether that upset will occur.

June 1, 2006 Update:

More Republicans seem confident that Senator Lincoln Chafee will defeat Steve Laffey for the GOP nomination, but they are not at all confident about November and most Rhode Island observers give Sheldon Whitehouse a 50-50 chance against the incumbent Chafee.

March 27, 2006 Update:

Secretary of State Matt Brown has withdrawn, in effect handing the Democratic nomination to former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse and strengthening Whitehouse’s bid to oust GOP U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee. By contrast, Chafee still faces a challenge from conservative Mayor Steve Laffey–and then a tough November battle with Whitehouse, assuming Chafee can turn back Laffey. Democrats hope Laffey will prevail; he will easily be dispatched by Whitehouse in the fall, giving Democrats a big pick-up in the war for the Senate.

March 27, 2006 Update:

It is becoming increasingly apparent that former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse is the likely Democratic candidate, because former Secretary of State Matt Brown‘s campaign finance troubles and many scandals. Whitehouse will give Senator Lincoln Chafee a very tough race, assuming that Chafee, who expressed some interest in Senator Russ Feingold‘s censure resolution of President George W. Bush, can even get re-nominated over Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey.


Background

When you look at the party leanings of Rhode Islanders–arguably, the most Democratic voters in the country, even more so than in Massachusetts–it is amazing that any Republican could win a Senate seat here. But Senator Lincoln Chafee, the most liberal member of his party caucus, is not your run-of-the-mill Republican. The son of long-time Governor and Senator John Chafee, “Linc” was appointed to Dad’s seat when he passed away unexpectedly in 1999. Elected to a full term of his own in 2000, Chafee has avoided the curse of the Bush presidency, though in an oddball way: in 2004 Chafee announced that he was voting for George Herbert Walker Bush for President–W’s father, old #41.

It will not be surprising if Chafee loses in 2006 (or any year). He got a break when the strongest Democratic candidate, pro-life Congressman Jim Langevin decided not to run in late March. But, state Secretary of State Matt Brown or defeated gubernatorial candidate Sheldon Whitehouse would automatically be competitive. Whitehouse has been the early leader in the Democratic race, and has done well in fundraising–in fact, better than incumbent Chafee. In a state that tilts so “D,” Chafee’s incumbency causes us to give him the slightest edge, but don’t be surprised if this contest ends up in the toss-up category.

Complicating Chafee’s reelection bid is the fact that conservative Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey has now decided to challenge Chafee for the GOP nomination. Considering the conservative Republican base–even in liberal Rhode Island–Chafee may have to work hard just to get re-nominated.

Candidates

Lincoln Chafee (I) – Republican – Second Quarter Raised: $732,777 | Cash on Hand: $1,276,547
Website

Sheldon Whitehouse – Democrat – Second Quarter Raised: $1,014,927.23 | Cash on Hand: $1,812,438.93
Website