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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> Governor -- Rhode Island

Parties See Chafee As Potential Winner

This fall and in 2010, third-party candidates are poised to play spoiler in some gubernatorial elections. A new survey from Public Policy Polling finds that Independent Chris Daggett could have an impact on the final result in New Jersey, although it's unclear whether he hurts Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine or Republican challenger Chris Christie more.

Last week, Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill also announced his independent candidacy for governor in that state. A former Democrat, his entrance adds to Gov. Deval Patrick's political vulnerability, reflected in Patrick's bottom-scraping approval rating of 20%.

But there is one independent candidate both parties point to as not just a spoiler, but as a potential winner: Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator seeking the governor's office in Rhode Island. "In the world of who is real and serious and credible, it's Chafee," Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said Wednesday at an event previewing 2010 races sponsored by The Hotline. "In general, [independent candidates] are low-impact. In Rhode Island, that's a very high impact."

Added Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, Chafee is "who we see as the general election competition."

Rhode Island is similar to some of its neighbors in that it's a heavily Democratic state that has a propensity for electing Republican governors. But current GOP Gov. Don Carcieri is term-limited, and no major Republican has emerged yet in the race to succeed him. Mr. Chafee was one of six Republican senators to lose in the pivotal 2006 elections. After his defeat, he switched party affiliation to independent and endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president. His high name-identification and crossover appeal in the nation's smallest state make an uncertain open-seat race that much more unpredictable for the national parties.

Planning Ahead

Politicians plan ahead, and two Republicans are plotting their next moves, both of which seem aimed at their state's governor's mansions.

As was widely reported yesterday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, told Texas Monthly magazine that she would not run for re-election when her term comes up in 2012, and that she may resign as early as 2009, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Hutchison is rumored to be interested in taking over for Gov. Rick Perry, who is thought likely to step down in 2010 after a decade on the job. "People have been asking me if I would consider running for governor in 2010, and I am considering it," Hutchison told a news conference off the Senate floor yesterday, according to the Dallas Morning News' Todd Gillman. Still, she said, she has not made up her mind on the race, and likely won't for some time.

In Rhode Island, where Republican Gov. Don Carcieri faces term limits in 2010, another Republican is gearing up to take a shot at this historically liberal state. In 2006, as Carcieri narrowly fended off Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, a Democrat, Sen. Lincoln Chafee had to fight back a challenge from former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey in the GOP primary. Laffey had the strong backing of the conservative Club for Growth, which helped him raise money and got him close to knocking off Chafee, who won by a narrow 54%-46% margin.

As the Club for Growth met today in Washington, Laffey was on hand to catch up with his supporters. One woman, who told Laffey she had recently read his book, gave him a hug and told him she was sorry he lost. Laffey gave her an enthusiastic response: "I'm going to run for governor," he said, before introducing her to his former campaign manager.

Whether Laffey, a conservative, can replace Carcieri, more of a moderate business pragmatist, in Rhode Island's mind as an heir to the New England Republicanism that sometimes works in the state, though, remains to be seen. Polls before the Republican Senate primary showed Laffey losing to now-Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse by wider margins than Chafee.