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R.I. Senate: Matt Brown Makes Gains

Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown has leapt into the lead in the Democratic Senate primary, with two new polls showing him ahead of former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse.

Brown led Whitehouse 38 percent to 36 percent in a survey conducted by Brown campaign pollster Pete Brodnitz; a Brown University poll had Matt Brown holding a 31 percent to 25 percent edge over Whitehouse.

In the Brown University poll, Brown also ran stronger against Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) and Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R). Brown trailed Chafee by just two points compared to Whitehouse's six-point deficit. Against Laffey, who is challenging Chafee in the Republican primary, Brown led 47 percent to 24 percent, while Whitehouse led Laffey 44 percent to 29 percent.

Why the sudden leap for Brown, who has long been the underdog to Whitehouse? The simplest answer is his heavy spending on television ads in late 2005 and early 2006 in an attempt to erase the idea that Whitehouse is the nominee-in-waiting. The Brown campaign believes it has done just that, arguing that the improved poll numbers do not reflect just a name identification boost but rather a solidification of support for Brown. As evidence, they note that while Brown's name identification went up by just eight percent compared with internal polls taken last year, his ballot test improved by 25 percent.

Brown's rise in the polls has come at a considerable cost. By the end of last year, Brown had spent $1 million and ended 2005 with less than $200,000 in the bank. In January Brown spent nearly all of his remaining cash to run more television ads, according to a spokesman for his campaign quoted in the Providence Journal.

With little money left in the coffers, has Brown peaked seven months before the primary election? The answer is probably.

Brown's early spending gambit was aimed at improving his fundraising, an area where he has struggled since Whitehouse, the establishment favorite, entered the race. The next filing period, which closes March 31, will show whether the Brown has bucked conventional wisdom and advertised his way back into the fundraising chase. He starts the year in a huge hole against Whitehouse, who ended 2005 having raised $1.9 million and retained $1.2 million in the bank.

A sidenote on the Brown University poll: National Republican strategists are using the general election ballot to justify the spending by the National Republican Senatorial Committee on ads attacking Laffey. One strategist noted that the poll results back up the NRSC's claims that Chafee is the only Republican who can hold the seat for the party in the fall.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 8, 2006; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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urelu wnblieno

Posted by: Jeremy | March 2, 2006 7:42 PM | Report abuse

urelu wnblieno

Posted by: Jeremy | March 2, 2006 7:42 PM | Report abuse

completeing the last submission: reaches that point.

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was a loser each of those times and will continue to lose because the GOP will never allow him to have any real power. Don't expect to see him as Chairman of the Appropriations or Armed Services Committees.

Keeping linc in the Senate because there's been a Chaffee there for 30 years makes as much sense as the Red Sox wanting Roger Clemens back so he can finish his career in Boston.

Linc will never have any effective power as a member of the GOP. The only way for him to get into power positions (which is how states are best served) is for the Democrats to become the majority and then for him to change parties; like all of those Southern Democrats did.

But, don't ever expect that to happen. Changing parties for him psychologically would be like a Catholic saying that they were now an Episcoplian, or vice versa, all for political purposes. It's not in his psychological makeup. The Alito vote is evidence of that.

Posted by: RI Native in DC | February 9, 2006 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Actually Chaffee is a rubberstamp for the GOP in a way. Not in the way in which he votes on the floor, but in that by his keeping his party affiliation he contributes to the GOP being able to, control the flow of legislation through the Senate leadership, set the procedural rules, and more importantly as the "majority" they control the committees where all of the work is done.

Why did the Attorney General not have to provide sworn testimony before the Judiciary Committee last week? Because the GOP is the majority on the committee. At least one Attorney General (Kleindienst) had to plead guilty for providing false statements, when faced with perjury prosecution. With committee majorities, no administration official has to worry about that.

Controlling the legislative process, setting the rules and controlling the comittees are huge reasons why the RNC can support Chaffee even though he may not vote the way they like most of the time. Losing the "majority" means a lot more than just the vote on the floor of the Senate.

Also, please spare me the nostalgia. John Chaffee may have been a good man, but don't tell that to the guys at Quonset and Newport who were laid off when the Navy was moved out. He could have had a huge say in that as Secretary of the Navy. Also, the Republican leadership stabbed him in the back when he reached a seniority position when he qualified for a leadership position. They'll do the same to Linc if he ever

Posted by: RI Native In DC | February 9, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

"Chafee is simply a rubberstamp extra vote for the GOP..."

Uh, no he isn't. He's the exact opposite of a "rubberstamp extra vote". He's a huge pain in the ass for the neo-con wing, a guy who may actually support reigning in spending without -- God forbid -- a slavish devotion to tax cuts, "terr'ists", or a needless culture war.

And Felix -- don't assail West's credibility and percieved "bias", and then refer to "liberal Brown students", "the left-wingers", and "looney left-winger Myrth York" in the span of two paragraphs. Your Bush-Cheney 2004 button is showing.

Honestly, I have no real quarrel with Chafee, Brown, OR Whitehouse. The only real loser of the bunch is Laffey, whose staggering arrogance is even more hilarious once you realize he has ABSOLUTELY ZERO CHANCE of winning the general election. It's not that he's a Republican -- it's that he's a blithering idiot.

Posted by: Nate | February 9, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse

The gamble *may* have paid off if he'd moved further into the lead - people always get behind a clear lead financially in such matters but this really doesn't represent anything like the figure he would be looking for in return for that level of campaign spending.

Posted by: Aidan Brack | February 9, 2006 6:15 AM | Report abuse

Darrell West is a joke. Consider this: his poll had 323 of 785 registered voters voting in the Democratic primary. That is 41% of registered voters going into the Democratic primary. Are you kidding me?? There has never been more than 24%, and more likely will be less than 20% with a contested Republican primary.
Darrell West uses the liberal Brown students to do his polling. Any wonder that his pools always favor the left wingers, erroneously?
Heck, two weeks before the last election for governor he had the looney left-winger Myrth Yorke beating Don Carcieri by 7%. NOT!- Carcieri wins by 10% - just two weeks later.

Why anyone listens to this joker is beyond me.

Posted by: Felix | February 8, 2006 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Ditto that, Samuel. Chafee is simply a rubberstamp extra vote for the GOP and decides which party controls the senate in 2006.

Vote Brown or Whitehouse. Chafee has to go.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 8, 2006 6:45 PM | Report abuse

hey Epidave,

If Chafee is a good man (as you call him), he can easily change his party affiliation to Democrat. I don't understand how any individual with a conscience can still proudly call themselves Republican in this day and age. The Republican party today has no moral conscience about the damage they have done and continue to do to this country and its people.

I hope for goodness sake Chafee is voted out come November.

Posted by: Samuel | February 8, 2006 6:29 PM | Report abuse

From the WaPo

"Chafee faces a double dilemma in Rhode Island: a stiff GOP primary challenge by Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, and a likely strong Democratic opponent if he survives. Chafee's anti-Alito vote may entice more independent voters to back him in the Republican primary (at which independents can legally vote), which is vital to the senator's reelection hopes, said Brown University political scientist Darrell West."

Chafee obviously did right by Epidave.

Posted by: Judge Crater | February 8, 2006 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Epidave, I forget how Chafee voted on Justice Alito and Robert. Could you remind me?

Posted by: Excalibur | February 8, 2006 6:00 PM | Report abuse

As someone who grew up in Rhode Island, I'm torn. I would love it if RI put another Democrat in the senate, but Lincoln Chafee is a good man who represents his constituents well. He is a moderate Republican who is fiscally responsible yet socially progressive. It kills me that he is part of the GOP but part of me hopes he is a continuing agent for change within his party. Add to that the sentimental loss of RI not sending a Chafee to the Senate (his father served RI from 76-99) and the thought of a change is a bit sad. Yes, Lincoln's presence in the Senate ultimately helps give the Republican's control and this is a fact I couldn't overlook when voting against, for instance, Connie Morella on the House side. But like Morella, this is a very tough choice because Lincoln Chafee is a very good man who serves RI very well.

Posted by: Epidave | February 8, 2006 5:54 PM | Report abuse

"a huge hole" NOT a "a huge whole"

When are you guys going to send me a check for my editing services?

Posted by: lpdrjk | February 8, 2006 5:30 PM | Report abuse

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