By Aaron Blake - 06/28/06 12:00 AM EDT
The Republican Main Street Partnership PAC called yesterday for Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s primary challenger to drop out of the Rhode Island Senate race to help keep a Republican majority in the Senate. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and Chafee’s campaign echoed the call.
The centrist Republican PAC’s call for Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey to withdraw came the same day as a new Brown University poll reasserted that the more-conservative Laffey would face a much harder race than Chafee in defeating the Democratic candidate, Sheldon Whitehouse.
Chafee’s campaign manager, Ian Lang, also ended speculation about his boss’s status by revealing that the campaign had filed papers for Chafee to run as a Republican. There had been talk that Laffey’s run might push Chafee into an independent candidacy.
The polls show Republicans have reason to be concerned about a Laffey nomination. In the Brown poll, Whitehouse leads Chafee 38-37, which is within the margin of error, but leads Laffey much more convincingly, 55-25. The poll results are similar to the findings of a mid-June Rasmussen poll, which had Chafee ahead of Whitehouse 44-42 and Laffey trailing the Democrat 60-25.
The Republican Main Street Partnership PAC’s executive director, Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, said that the polling speaks for itself and that Laffey should quit “for the good of the Republican Party.”
She added: “If he’s a real Republican and cares about the Republican Party, he needs to withdraw and wait until there’s an opening and run again in the future.”
Lang agreed with the call but downplayed Laffey’s primary candidacy.
“I think if Steve Laffey wants to put the interests of the Republican Party first, then he should seriously consider that,” Lang said. “We’re very comfortable with where we are. We’re confident that we’re going to win in September, we’re going to win in November and we’re going to return to the Senate in January.”
The Club for Growth, a conservative group that is supporting Laffey, released a poll this month showing Laffey and Chafee in a statistical tie.
The NRSC, which has backed the incumbent, agreed with the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC, saying it has said all along that Laffey doesn’t stand a chance.
“Laffey’s biggest cheerleaders in this primary are Sheldon Whitehouse and [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman] [Charles] Schumer [D-N.Y.],” NRSC spokesman Dan Ronayne said. “Maybe the mayor should stop and think about that and then do the right thing.”
Laffey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said he would not drop out and does not pay attention to polls because they have proved unreliable in his other races.
“The Republican Main Street Partnership, or whatever they’re called, doesn’t think Mayor Laffey can win in November? Well, we don’t care; they’ll be surprised,” Soloveichik said. “Mayor Laffey … thinks about things from a rational perspective, and he doesn’t enter any venture that he doesn’t think he can go all the way.”
Resnick denounced the Club for Growth PAC’s support for Laffey, saying it has forced the national party to spend valuable resources in the primary that it could be using to protect Republicans like Chafee and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) in the general election.
The Club for Growth endorsed Laffey a month ago, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign and has run ads against Chafee. It did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Resnick said that if Laffey had a chance to win, her PAC would be more open to his candidacy but that he simply has no chance. Chafee is one of eight senators on the PAC’s advisory board.
The race between Chafee and Laffey has become increasingly contentious as the September primary nears, and the winner will have less than two months to turn his attention to Whitehouse.
Recently, Laffey’s campaign has pushed Chafee to say whether or not he planned to run as an independent. He had until today to decide.
Chafee’s campaign had encouraged Democrats who support the incumbent to switch party affiliations to independent or Republican so that they can vote in the Republican primary. The Providence Journal reported last week that more than 14,500 Democrats had switched their affiliation, presumably helping Chafee.
Whitehouse spokeswoman Alex Swartsel said that the PAC’s call on Laffey to drop out shows how concerned Republicans are about her boss but that the Democratic candidate doesn’t care whom he faces in November.
“These guys are making it clear that they are going to fight as hard as they can to keep this seat, and whatever steps they feel are appropriate to take, they’ll take,” Swartsel said.