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R.I. Senate: Dem's Exit Could Boost Chafee in GOP Primary

Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown  ended his Senate campaign this afternoon, leaving former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse as the lone Democrat in the field.

A clear primary field should enhance (slightly) Democrats' chances of picking up this seat in the fall, as Whitehouse will be able to conserve resources while GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee is engaged in a primary fight with Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.

Brown's departure could also help Chafee, who is widely regarded to be the stronger general election candidate of the two Republicans. Under Rhode Island law, independents can vote in either party primary; without a competitive Democratic race, the thinking among some political observers is that independents will flock to the GOP primary and give the moderate Chafee the boost he needs to defeat Laffey.

While the impact of Brown's departure on the race is up for debate, it was clear to anyone with even a passing knowledge of politics that the time had come for him to drop his candidacy. Brown was the first Democrat to jump into the race and vowed to remain in for the long haul despite the fact that the Democratic establishment quickly lined up behind Whitehouse.

Brown was running a solid -- if not spectacular -- campaign until March when Roll Call (my alma mater) broke the news that he had urged contributors who had already donated the legal limit to his campaign to make donations to state parties who then passed the money along to . Brown denied that his end run around campaign finance laws was illegal but was forced to refund the money to the state parties and his campaign was never able to fully recover.

The calls for Brown to drop out grew considerably louder when fundraising reports for the first three months of the year became public. Whitehouse had $1.4 million to spend at the end of March compared with just $35,000 for Brown. Brown reacted by laying off the vast majority of his staff while vowing to remain in the race.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) called Brown a "class act" in a statement released this afternoon. "His decision today takes us one step closer in our quest to pick up seats in the Senate this year."

On The Fix's latest Senate line Rhode Island ranks as the second most likely seat to turn over this fall. Will that change when we rank Senate races again? Wait and see.

Here's the statement that Whitehouse's campaign issued today in response to Brown's withdrawal:

Cranston, R.I. - Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sheldon Whitehouse today issued the following statement:

"Matt's campaign has, like Matt himself, been characterized by boldness, energy, vision and conviction. Now that the time has come where it makes sense to unify behind one candidate, the strength of Matt's conviction is apparent in his announcement today. What he has done is extraordinarily gracious, and it reflects a fact we are both deeply aware of: if there is not a Democratic check on George Bush in the last two years of the Bush Administration, the country is in grave trouble. Neither Republican in this race will provide that check. Both will vote to organize the Senate under Republican leadership. I never will.

"We both also know that Washington needs new ideas and solutions for urgent problems. On the campaign trail we've heard from mothers who've had to buy body armor for their kids serving in Iraq, from veterans concerned about a misguided war with no exit strategy, from seniors who know their prescription drug plan was designed for big business and not for them, from parents and teachers desperately concerned about what No Child Left Behind has done to public schools, and from pretty much everyone in Rhode Island - from moms to CEO's - deeply concerned about health care and the blindness in Washington to the crying need for health care reform.

"We have touched the pain and frustration and anger of families facing these problems and more, and who find no solutions from Washington. We both know that our small state can make a big difference in our country's future, if we help break the monopoly of power in Washington. Matt has always been all about making a difference, and what Matt has done today makes a big difference in making that happen."

- 30 -

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 26, 2006; 5:16 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: Leadership PACs: The 2008 Republicans


I live at 86566 Commonwealth in Seattle. Been up here before?

Posted by: Mike Flacklestein | August 3, 2006 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Progressives (whether independent, Democrat or Republican) need to begin acting politically smarter. It is clear that moderate Republicans have no influence in the national leadership. Rather than helping elect a powerless moderate Republican, wouldn't everyone be better off to elect a Democrat? If the Northeast moderate Republicans who are powerless to keep rightwing conservative measures from going forward--tax breaks that only help the rich and drive up deficits; prolong a war which only causes more instability in oil prices; pursue rightwing religious objectives that divide our country; etc.--were replaced by Democrats, the Senate would have a truly moderate Democratic majority instead of a Republican majority which talks reasonably and ignores the voices of reason in its own ranks when it takes action.

Posted by: Dennis | May 5, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Star Dem.

Posted by: RI Native in DC | May 1, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

The rules on voting in the primary in RI are as follows. You must be registered as a member of the party or an "unaffiliated" voter at least 90 days prior to the primary election. Many people actually vote in the primary and immediately disaffiliate. The forms are available at the polls. So anyone who is registered as a Democrat and want to vote in the Republican Primary in September have to disaffilate by June 12. In fact Mrs. Chafee is encourgaing all those Dems who have contributed to Sen Chafee in the past to disaffilate and vote for her husband in the Republican Primary.

Posted by: Star Dem | April 29, 2006 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Hard to tell, it seems to be a common characteristic of irrational people. Somewhere deep inside, they know they're not making sense, so they keep abandoning one failed argument in hopes of making a stronger one on something else. Inevitably they just fail on that too. It's a sign of how little and how poorly critical thinking is taught in our schools.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | April 28, 2006 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Do you think that it's because Sandy has "issues" that the focus jumps from one point to another to another to another...?

Posted by: RI Native in DC | April 28, 2006 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Chafee would be perfectly fine as a Democratic senator (though he'd join Mark Pryor in the dim bulb caucus), and if he switched parties I would happily support him, as would the people of RI. As long he insists on being a Republican, he deserves to lose.

I won't bother responding to Sandy since she's made her lack of interest in facts and logic abundantly clear.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | April 28, 2006 12:54 AM | Report abuse

It's ludicrous to say that Justice Alito's wife was part of some sort of Republican plot to get sympathy by crying.

She cried because the Democratic Senators - in an attempt to smear her husband for partisan political purposes - berated her husband and made false accusations against him, making fools of themselves in the process. I don't really like the Republican Party at all and I think their Senators are jerks, too, but the Democrats always fall into the trap of acting even more arrogant than the Republicans with their offensive tactics. Then they tried to drag his 90-year-old mother into it by saying that she vouched for the fact that she raised her son to be Catholic and thus pro-life. They sent people to go and protest on her lawn.

I think Justice Alito and his wife showed more class than any of the Senators on the committee - of either party.

Posted by: Sandy | April 27, 2006 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that Senator John O. Pastore would have voted against his fellow paisan for the same reasons Linc did.

Sandy, give Rhode Island Italians more credit.

Judge Alito, who was the U. S. Attorney in New Jersey and is probably tough as nails, didn't seem to have any problems with the committee. (Which Linc is not on.)

You got suckered by the "spin machine."

Posted by: RI Native in DC | April 27, 2006 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Sandy, you are misstating what happened at the Senate Judiciary Committe hearing when you say that Democrats there made (now)Justice Alito's wife cry. She didn't start to cry until Republican Senator Lindsay Graham was doing the questioning, then she started to cry--so you should be criticizing Lindsay Graham. He did this intentionally to make Democrats look bad. Most people did not fall for that awful tactic.

Posted by: Jason | April 27, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Andrew | April 27, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

In many ways, Lincoln Chafee has expressed admirable qualities related to political and personal conscience, rather than hewing a party line for political expediency. This has endeared him to some and infuriated others, particularly his Republic party brethren. His problem is that he's a closer to being a Democrat dressed in Republican togs, and until he accepts that fact and acts on it, he stands in the way of the creation of a Democratic Senate which could offer a needed check on the one-party rule of today's Washington, with all the disasters we've seen generated by the Republican-controlled Congress and White House. Senator Chafee would win reelection as a Democrat or Independent based on the qualities he's exhibited, but as a Republican, his party affiliation is not good for Rhode Islanders, or for anyone else wanting checks and balances in Washington.

Posted by: Ocean Stater | April 27, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse

"I think his vote against Alito will hurt him in Rhode Island because there are a lot of Italians there who don't appreciate seeing their people attacked and smeared."

"Their people?" The last wave of Italians arriving on Narraganset Bay was in the 1930s and "their people" are 100% American.

Rhode Island tolerated Lincoln because his father (God bless his soul) was so well loved, but Lincoln hasn't bonded with the state's quirky citizens. Rhode Islanders are smart people and very engaged in state politics. They know what they need to do to restore sanity to the country and they will vote the GOP out.

Posted by: Tab Khan | April 27, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Rhode Islanders may be pretty damn progressive and may even overwhelmingly favor abortion, but the huge number of Italians there still don't appreciate one of their own being viciously attacked on a personal level for holding beliefs consistent with his faith.

The people who attacked Alito made his wife cry during the hearings. It was vicious and wrong and their behavior backfired on the people who were trying to derail Alito.

Posted by: Sandy | April 27, 2006 10:14 AM | Report abuse

House passes draconian intelligence bill

By Bev Conover
Apr 27, 2006, 00:37

The cretins in Congress better start using their gray matter, if they have any, because the repressive legislation they pass that bites the people today will also bite them tomorrow.

No one is immune from the horrors of a police state. No one. None. Fall out of favor with the ruling clique, for whatever reason, and your goose is cooked.

And a police state is what they are creating, all under the guise of "national security" and keeping us "safe" from "terrorists."

The latest nightmare is buried in the HR 5020, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, which the House of Representatives passed, 327-96, yesterday. Among its provisions are giving National Security Director John Negroponte authority to devise a plan for revoking the pensions of retired intelligence agency employees "who commit unauthorized disclosures of classified information." That takes care of any retired whistleblowers.

If that weren't bad enough, the Baltimore Sun is reporting "It also would permit security forces at the National Security Agency and the CIA to make warrantless arrests outside the gates of their top-secret campuses."

Plus, according to the Sun, "The measure also directs Congress to conduct a study of possible new sanctions against those who receive leaks of classified information, including journalists."

In effect, a total shutdown of any knowledge of the crimes your government has committed or is committing in your name.

Is this a sign that we are reaching the tipping point and the real terrorists in the executive branch and their fellow travelers in Congress are fearful of a rebellion? Is this a preemptive attempt to thwart an uprising?

It's better to put all the control mechanisms in place while most Americans are still preoccupied with the daily dose of lies and omissions dished out by their handmaidens in the corporate media. After all, how long can the Busheviks continue to trot out phony Osama tapes and Zarqawi videos, threatening mayhem, when things are going badly for the administration?

With Hitler, it was the Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and anyone else who opposed him. With Bush, it's darker complexioned people ("terrorists," possible "terrorists," and aiders and abettors or sympathizers of "terrorists") and anyone else who opposes him.

Fascism doesn't descend all at once. It comes creeping in, in seemingly benign ways at first. A little chip off your liberties here and a little chip there -- all for your safety and welfare, you're told -- and one day you wake up to find all your liberties are gone. We are nearly to that point.

The USAPATRIOT Act, which too many persist in calling the Patriot Act, has nothing to do with patriots or patriotism. The full title alone should have horrified people: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. As slickly as it was rammed through both houses, without being read or debated, in the wake of 9-11 and reauthorized this year, its provisions weren't harsh enough to keep us in line. So now the Congress critters have come up with HR 520 to punish anyone who discloses things the Busheviks want kept secret. The question is will the Senate also vote for this abomination?
The irony is that the chippers in Congress, in the state legislatures, in the city halls, fail to realize that one day they, too, make become victims of their chipping. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, as Lord Acton noted, but power of the smallest degree is a siren song that tends to blind.

Posted by: che | April 27, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse



April 26, 2006 -- LATE EDITION Recently reassigned Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove volunteered to testify this afternoon before a grand jury investigating the leaking of the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson to the media in an effort to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his conclusions that the Niger-Iraq uranium claims by the Bush administration were false. Rove was before the grand jury, without his lawyer in attendance, from 12:30 to at least 4:00 pm. Informed sources speculate that Rove only agreed to testify because he and his attorney Robert Luskin have received a "target letter" from Fitzgerald, an indication that at least one indictment is forthcoming. Rove's lawyers and political friends are spinning the story that Rove is being cooperative with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and has not received a target letter. Anytime major media reporters refer to "legal sources," they are talking about Rove's attorneys and GOP friends. The prosecution side has been noted for a total lack of leaks to the media. Last week, in court filings by Fitzgerald, Rove was named as a "subject" of the investigation for the first time. After securing a conviction against former GOP Governor George Ryan in Illinois last week, Fitzgerald's renewed efforts in the Leakgate case resulted in the current flurry of activity related to Rove.

Rove: Legal trouble looming in CIA Leakgate case

Rove's appearance before the grand jury meeting at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, the scene of the indictments in Watergate and the Iran-Contra scandals, was his fifth. Rove's last appearance before the grand jury was in October 2005. That was a few just prior to the garnd jury indicting Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff I. "Scooter" Libby on five counts of criminal activity. Today, Rove prepared for his grand jury testimony by meeting with his attorneys while President Bush was announcing the appointment of Fox News' Tony Snow as the new White House Press Secretary. Snow's appointment is an indication that the White House, anticipating major legal problems on the CIA Leakgate front, felt it necessary to fire Scott McClellan, viewed as a disingenuous amateur, by an experienced Fox-trained spinmeister and propagandist like Snow.

U.S. intelligence community insiders also speculate that CIA Inspector General official Mary O. McCarthy was fired on orders of a White House already aware that Rove would soon be indicted in an effort to demonstrate that even the CIA leaks classified information about itself. McCarthy, who denies she was the source for the Washington Post's story on secret CIA torture prisons in Eastern Europe, was, nevertheless, fired a week before she was eligible for retirement. However, the White House and right-wing media spin machine beat the drum that McCarthy admitted leaking the information following a polygraph.

An indictment of Rove will largely remove him from engaging in dirty political tricks in an attempt to keep the Congress from going to the Democrats in November election. Rove's recent reassignment by new White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten was seen as an attempt to reduce Rove's visibility but keep him engaged in the GOP election strategy. An indictment of Rove would effectively remove him from both the White House and the GOP political campaign.

Posted by: che | April 27, 2006 5:39 AM | Report abuse

What on earth would the connection be between opposing gun control and coming from Italy??

Sandy, Rhode Islanders are pretty damn progressive. They strongly opposed Alito. Chafee won votes by opposing him. Next time, try reality.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | April 27, 2006 2:06 AM | Report abuse

Alito is awesome. He was viciously attacked for being an Italian-American Catholic who happens to think that abortion is not a good thing.

YES on Alito

NO on Chafee

Posted by: Sandy | April 27, 2006 1:32 AM | Report abuse

alito is a right wing "extremist"? and thurgood marshall was a sensible moderate right? please. alito is conservative. get over it.

when was alito attacked for being italian? were you in a coma when immmediately after getting nominated, the DNC tried to pin the moniker "machine gun sammy" on him for his opinion on the commerce clause's applicability to gun sales?

I'm sure that had nothing to do with his ethnic heritage.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 26, 2006 11:58 PM | Report abuse

I predict that Brown's withdrawal will have no effect on Chris' next Senate race rankings.

And when was Alito ever attacked, demonized, or otherwise mistreated for being Italian?

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | April 26, 2006 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Rhode Islanders are going to vote against Chafee because he voted against an Italian-American right wing extremist to sit on the Supreme Court?? Uh, right. Keep drinking that Kool-Aid, dude.

The noun is "Democrat". The adjective is "Democratic".

Seems to me Whitehouse still has similar problems to Ralph Neas, Terry Lierman, and other DemocratIC challengers to Connie Morella in MD-8 before the 2001 redistricting; despite being a good match for his state on the issues, they have to convince Rhode Islanders that Chafee's party alone is disadvantageous to them. Then again, RI is the most Democratic state in presidential elections, so maybe the sheer number of Dems there would obviate that need. They keep electing Republican governors though... The only sure thing in this race so far is that if Chafee loses the primary, Dems win the seat. Arlen Specter beat back, 51-49, a similar challenge from Pat Toomey last cycle. Chafee is using Specter's campaign people now. But PA is much more of a swing state than Democratic RI, and Specter is a lot smarter and has much more stature and respect than Chafee the Younger. In 2000 Chafee was probably helped by his father's recent death and his opponent (Bob Weygand)'s opposition to legal abortion. Nothing like those factors seem present now.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | April 26, 2006 10:40 PM | Report abuse

The Caped Composer: That was what I was thinking, Democrats are now free to vote for Laffey in the Republican primary.

Posted by: Andrew | April 26, 2006 9:46 PM | Report abuse

The idea that Democrats would register as independents and vote for Chafee in the Republican primary is preposterous. If anything, Democrats, wanting to add numbers to the senate, would vote in the Republican primary for LAFFEY, knowing that he would be handily defeated by Whitehouse in the general election!

Posted by: The Caped Composer | April 26, 2006 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Chafee is just an aging ex-hippie who hasn't changed his hairstyle since the 1970s. He looks like John Denver.

I think his vote against Alito will hurt him in Rhode Island because there are a lot of Italians there who don't appreciate seeing their people attacked and smeared.

I think Chafee loses in the general election. The state is overwhelmingly Democratic, and why would those people vote for a cheap imitation when they ould have the real thing?

Posted by: Sandy | April 26, 2006 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Andrew: I don't think that you even have to re-register in Rhode Island. [Back in the '70's cross-overs was an issue decided by the courts.]

I think that it's an "Open" primary, and you can just walk in and vote; with one kicker. You just can't vote in the other party's next primary. You have to skip one primary, before you can "return home." Some current RI resident may be able to contribute better information on that. [Like somebody from Linc's office?]

But your real point is on target, because any inhibition due to the feeling of a need to vote for Brown or Whitehouse has now been eliminated.

Posted by: RI Native in DC | April 26, 2006 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Shailagh Murray's April 14th article in the Post on the Senator had some interesting material. []

"The GOP senator had appeared the previous night before the Scituate Republican Town Committee to seek the endorsement of the small but influential group. In his halting, soft-spoken way, Chafee defended his opposition to the war in Iraq, domestic wiretapping and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. as the principled positions of an old-school conservative.

"Chafee, 53, once could count on voters in Rhode Island to tolerate his maverick ways, but this time the response was blank stares. 'Nobody listened to my reasoning,' Chafee recounted...'They support the president on everything.'... [then at the very end]The group decided to back Laffey the morning after Chafee's appearance."

It's ironic (desperate?) that the national Republicans are supporting Linc, with him being such a pain in the side to the President; while the locals are speaking volumes with their silence.

Other than the guy who stands on the top of the Statehouse, I don't know that RI really has many Independents. And, I just don't see the Democrat "cross-overs" he would need to defeat Laffey in the primary.

A Summer of high gas prices will have a positive effect for any Democtrat. Most importantly for Whitehouse, he can now use all of his money to campaign against both Laffey and Chaffe, simply narrowing the focus after the Republican nominee is selected.

Linc's only chance now has gotta be to become an Independent, like Jim Jeffords.

Posted by: RI Native in DC | April 26, 2006 7:05 PM | Report abuse

How is Chafee looking in the polls for both the Primary and General Elections?

Posted by: Mark | April 26, 2006 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Not having a Democrat primary also allows Democrats to re-registrer as independents then vote in the RI GOP primary.

Posted by: Andrew | April 26, 2006 6:56 PM | Report abuse

The first thing I thought when I read this was "This will be the little extra boost Chaffee needs."

At the same time, I feel that if independants bothered to vote in the primary, they would have gone to vote for Chaffee anyway, and not gotten involved in the Dem primary, since the GOP primary is a clear case moderate v. non-moderate battle that they would be engaged in more. So to what degree does this actually help Chafee and liberate a lot of independant voters that wouldn't have voten in the GOP primary remains to be seen.

The fact that Chaffee is going to emerge from the primary bloodied and broke (he has almost no COH if I'm not mistaken) and that Whitehouse will keep his money might actually be much more significant.

Posted by: NYliberal | April 26, 2006 6:14 PM | Report abuse

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