Two US Senators face serious primary challenges this year. Neither is guaranteed victory. They are Lincoln Chafee (R, RI) and Joe Lieberman (D, CT). Except that a great many people would change the party names to RINO and DINO. That’s Republican/Democrat In Name Only.
The charge of party disloyalty is easier to make against Chafee, who rarely votes with other Republicans, and even suggested that he would not vote Bush in advance of the 2004 election. Lieberman, of course, was ON his party’s Presidential ticket just six years ago. It has been said that (without much exaggeration) that Chafee casts one important vote for the Republicans every two years: he votes for a Republican Majority Leader.
That is probably the reason the party establishment has rallied round him. Conservative activist, Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform has said “a Republican from Rhode Island is a gift”. Rhode Island has not voted Republican in a Presidential poll since 1984. It was one of just 10 states to vote for Dukakis and of the six that voted Carter in 1980. It is difficult to imagine Rhode Island electing a Republican of any other stripe than Chafee. So why do so many Republicans want him out? If the primary challenge of Cranston Mayor Steven Laffey is successful, then the Democrats will probably gain the seat. Surely, a Republican would prefer someone who usually votes for the Democrats to someone who always votes with them.
But Chafee is not the only RINO in the Senate, merely the most egregious offender. A successful challenge to him might cost the Republicans one seat, but if it makes four or five other Republicans toe the line a bit more effectively, perhaps it would create a stronger caucus.
For Democrats supporting Ned Lamont’s challenge to Joe Lieberman the thinking is slightly different. Connecticut is almost as strongly Democrat as Rhode Island. Lieberman is far from being the only Democrat who can win there. Indeed, polls show that in a straight match with the Republican candidate, Lamont would win – though not by as big a margin as Lieberman would.
Lieberman, while known for his independent mind, does not vote against his party as commonly as Chafee. But then, there is the war. It is difficult for Democrat activists to get past this one big issue. Although almost exactly half of Democrat Senators voted for the resolution authorizing the Iraq war, many, including John Kerry, and the now ex-Senator John Edwards, have since changed their minds. Lieberman has not, is a very vocal critic of those who have.
If Lieberman survives his increasingly tight primary, he will easily win in November. Chafee, by contrast, will face another equally close race.
Except that it might not turn out like that at all. Both could decide to run as independents. In strongly Democrat Connecticut, Lieberman could probably expect to see the Republican vote collapse in his favor. Since he would have the support of 50% of Democrats and most of the independents, this would be more than enough to win, which is what current polls suggest. Chafee’s task would be more difficult, and three way races are hard to predict, but leaving the Republican Party would probably not damage his chances of winning.
Together, they could hold the balance of power in the Senate.
Copyright © Quentin Langley 21 June 2006
Quentin Langley is editor of www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly. Since this article was published it has become clear that Chafee WILL contest the Republican primary in Rhode Island.