Conducted by Darrel West of Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy, the survey gave Langevin 41 percent compared to Chafee’s 27.
State Rep. Victor Moffit said Chafee should rethink his opposition to the Iraq war.
“I think that’s hurt him because Rhode Island has a strong military contingent here,” Moffit said. “We have a lot of veterans. This is a strong veterans state.”
Bill O’Donnell, the VFW’s state commander for Rhode Island, said Chafee’s record on veterans issues is weaker than that of the state’s other three federal officeholders — Langevin, Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, all Democrats.
“He was elected as a Republican, yet he’s not supporting the Republican Party platform,” O’Donnell said. “By doing that in the big politics world, he’s not playing the game and he’s not getting what he needs to get for Rhode Island.”
O’Donnell could not specify any votes that upset veterans but said that his “legislative people [send him] reports all the time” fueling concerns about the senator’s support for veterans.
Steve Hourahan, a spokesman for Chafee, countered that the senator, while the only Senate Republican to oppose the Iraq war, had backed the subsequent $87 billion supplemental and all other spending measures for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hourahan also noted that Chafee supports giving veterans “concurrent receipt,” a long-sought initiative that would permit veterans to receive pension and disability benefits at the same time.
O’Donnell said veterans across the state would “absolutely” be open to voting for Langevin in 2006. Langevin has not decided whether to run and will make an announcement by April, said his communications director, Mike Guilfoyle.
It is unclear exactly how many veterans’ votes are at stake. O’Donnell estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of Rhode Island voters were either veterans or family members of veterans. Another leading veteran, Charles Brule, the former sheriff of Barrington and a member of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, said there are between 60,000 and 70,000 veterans in the state.
Other Republicans said Chafee’s centrist voting record makes him a ripe primary target. State Rep. Joseph Trillo (R) added that Chafee is more likely to be defeated in a primary than in a general election.
Jeffrey Deckman, executive director of the state Republican Party, added that Chafee “can be a controversial figure, and he speaks his mind, and sometimes that ruffles feathers on both sides of the playing field up here.”
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, smells blood in the water. “The buzz around Rhode Island is this guy is an embarrassment to the state of Rhode Island,” a Democratic source said. “The presidential vote, constantly bucking his party — they don’t know if he’s a Republican, if he’s a Democrat. They don’t know what he’s going to do. It’s the unpredictability.”
This Democrat added that waging a “serious campaign” would cost Democrats between $5 million and $5.5 million — a “bargain pickup,” the source said, compared to other 2006 battlegrounds such as Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida.
But Deckman, like other Republicans, said that the party remains united behind Chafee. Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said the party is committed to reelecting Chafee.
Without disclosing how much the committee would spend to hold on to the seat, Nick said, “We will absolutely provide the necessary resources to ensure he is reelected.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) issued a news release yesterday highlighting the Brown University poll. DSCC spokesman Phil Singer did not return a message seeking further comment on Democrats’ plans in Rhode Island.
Chafee will host a fundraiser tomorrow in Providence. The fundraiser is expected to draw 150-200 people, including Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and all 19 Republicans in the state Legislature.
Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, who has made a name for himself fighting the unions, is often mentioned as a primary challenger. Laffey has been vague about his plans, state Republican sources said.
Yesterday, Laffey issued a statement saying: “I am humbled that so many people ask me about my plans for the future. I know that I have been very lucky. People in Rhode Island are aware of my populist bent, and they can be assured that whatever I decide to do after being mayor will be well thought out, well financed, well executed, and designed to help as many people as possible have the chance to live the American Dream as I have.”
Republican officials in Washington and Providence said they understood that Chafee must strike a delicate balance between placating the GOP base and keeping his constituents happy. Rhode Island overwhelmingly backed Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid last year. As one Republican put it, “We are a dark-blue state.”
Hourahan, commenting on the upcoming race, said, “Linc Chafee is the only Republican who can get elected in Rhode Island.” He added that poll numbers would shift in Chafee’s favor as the cycle progressed, saying that voters are not yet focused on 2006 and that the senator faced a similar challenge in 1999, before going on to clobber his Democratic opponent.