With a barrage of television advertisements and the mobilization of its get-out-the-vote machine, the national Republican Party has lined up to beat back a conservative primary challenge to the most liberal Republican in the Senate, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. The outcome on Tuesday could help determine whether Democrats have a shot at taking back the Senate.I just don't get the Laffey challenge. Sure, we progressives are aggravated by the feckless congresscritters who are only nominally on our side, but at least we're realistic enough to leave the ones in red states alone - because we know that a center-right Democrat is probably as good as we can get, and still preferable to a hard-right Republican. RI is one of the bluest states there is, and trying to install a right-wing Republican there just seems like the height of delusional hubris (which makes it all the more surprising that the Republican establishment is fighting it).
In an extraordinary pre-emptive announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will concede Rhode Island to the Democrats should Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, defeat Mr. Chafee in the primary.
Mr. Chafee has opposed many centerpiece Republican policies, from the war in Iraq to tax cuts to most restrictions on abortion. This week, he helped force a delay on the confirmation of John R. Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
For all that, Republicans said they expected to spend over $1.2 million on advertisements attacking Mr. Laffey, saturating the television stations of this state, the nation’s smallest. One ad lifts a line Republicans have used in countless attacks against Democrats, mocking the mayor as “tax-and-spend Steve Laffey.”
In one advertisement, which critics have called racist, an announcer says that as mayor, Mr. Laffey agreed to accept “Mexican ID cards” as proof of citizenship, while an ominous blur of dark-skinned faces flashes across the screen. “Mayor Steve Laffey accepts Mexican ID cards that can threaten our security,’’ the announcer said. “Will he put our security at risk in the Senate?’
The Republican attacks on Mr. Laffey have been met by attacks on Mr. Chafee by the Club for Growth and other groups. One advertisement belittled Mr. Chafee as “a Washington politician so out of touch he votes to waste $200 million on that Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska. Who’s so hypocritical he opposed a tax cut for you while he backed a pay raise for politicians.”
Does the Club For Growth really believe that their guy Laffey can win the general election, or is this all about sending Chafee a message that he'd better toe the line or else? Are they willing to sacrifice the Republican Senate majority just to send that message, or are they confident that the Republicans will hold enough seats that the loss of RI won't matter? I would dismiss it as folly, but look at how accommodating Arlen Specter has been since Pat Toomey (who also wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in the general) took a run at him in 2004. So maybe the strategy works... provided the target gets re-elected.
Analysis aside, I'm mostly just marveling at the way both Republicans are throwing classic Republican smears at... each other. I guess that's the only way you can campaign when you don't have any successes to point to.