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Too nice for politics? Senator Lincoln Chafee

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Sat 25 Jun, 2005 09:01 am
A politician whose wavering ineffectualness would annoy the heck out of his own Republicans and Democrats alike; but who could personally dislike this guy? He sounds just too nice for politics ... as per this political portrait, last month, in TNR:

Quote:
ON THE HILL
Party of Lincoln


by Michael Crowley Post date: 05.13.05
Issue date: 05.23.05

When Lincoln Chafee learned that George W. Bush was nominating John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, his heart sank. As a moderate Republican senator from Rhode Island, Chafee must constantly choose between his conservative party and his liberal instincts (and constituents). Such choices clearly torment the genial New Englander.

"I remember when the secretary of state called and said the president is going to appoint John Bolton," says Chafee, who knew, as a key swing vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he would attract plenty of attention during Bolton's confirmation hearings. "Just leaving Rhode Island to come down, the whole way back to Washington, I felt some kind of dread." The memory brought to Chafee's face the anguished look of a "Fear Factor" contestant eating an eyeball. "Of course I want to be a team player, but, my gosh, that's a heavy load!"

These days, Chafee's life is one heavy load after another. Arguably Washington's chief Republican heretic, Chafee was alone among Senate Republicans in opposing the Iraq war resolution and one of two against the 2001 Bush tax cuts; last month, he joined two other Republican moderates in voting against his party's annual budget resolution. But lately, he's been trying to make some amends with the party he has spent the past few years needling. That's because Chafee faces a rough reelection campaign next year. And he understands that, without the help of the very Republicans he infuriates, he could be toast.

Chafee is an unlikely figure to be at the center of such intense political currents. He has a preternaturally serene disposition, and none of the manic tendencies of some of his more zealous colleagues. When I met with him one recent morning, he was still groggy from a late budget vote. "We were here until 1 a.m.," he said somewhat plaintively. Amid the talk of politics and policy, few things seemed to excite him more than a discussion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the mention of which caused him to hop up and retrieve a calendar with images of the pristine reserve. "I was up in the Refuge just this month, way on top of the world," he said, almost dreamily. "The rolling grasslands! ... The wildlife! ... The caribou! ... All sorts of brown squirrels and prairie chickens." For a moment he was lost in a reverie.

But recently, he's been in the throes of an unforgiving political reality. For weeks, Chafee said he was "inclined" to support Bolton's nomination, but later mused to a reporter that Rhode Islanders were "overwhelmingly" opposed to it. Nevertheless, he seemed ready to back Bolton--until Ohio Republican George Voinovich balked in an April 19 committee hearing, after which Chafee hemmed and hawed again. As The New Republic went to press, Chafee was pledging to vote for Bolton--but no one would be shocked if he wavered yet another time (or two, or three).

The Bolton fight is just the latest will-he-or-won't-he saga of Chafee's Senate career. Last fall, for instance, he suggested that he would support Bush for president, then withdrew his endorsement, and finally cast a write-in vote for George Bush--senior. Then, on Election Day itself, Chafee kicked off a new drama when he said he wouldn't rule out changing parties; Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid urged him to defect. But a week later, Chafee declared that he would, in fact, remain a Republican. For now. The legendary Providence Journal political columnist Charlie Bakst pronounced this "an excruciating episode that has done the senator no good in Rhode Island or in Washington."

Chafee has been walking this tightrope from the day he arrived in the Senate in 1999 to fill the seat of his late father, Republican John Chafee. But an increasingly nasty political climate makes it difficult. Chafee often votes with Democrats but dutifully attends his party's weekly lunches. "I argue in caucus, I make my points even knowing I'm vastly outnumbered," Chafee says. "But, at the same time, I understand they'd like to grab me by the lapels and say, 'Are you ever going to support the president's agenda?'" One result is that Chafee is something of a loner on the Hill. "He wanders the halls alone," says one Senate Democratic aide.

Exasperated as they are, however, Republicans are now riding to Chafee's rescue as he faces possible challenges from both his left and right. Conservatives are urging Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, a hard-edged populist, to mount a primary challenge. (One Republican said to be egging on Laffey is Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who would like to be rid of Chafee's dissident vote on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Inhofe chairs.) Laffey would be a tough foe: Rhode Island may be liberal, but its Republican primary voters are very conservative; internal polling by both parties shows Laffey trouncing Chafee.

But the Republican establishment, convinced that only a moderate like Chafee can survive in liberal Rhode Island, is trying to keep Laffey out of the race. National GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman has called Laffey personally to ask him not to run. Meanwhile, top Republican senators, including Majority Leader Bill Frist and conservative Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, have recently hosted fund-raisers for Chafee. Former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie has another lined up.

Even if Laffey doesn't run, Chafee will need his party's helping hand. Rhode Island voted for John Kerry by a 60-39 margin, guaranteeing an uphill fight for any Republican, even one with a locally famous family name. Two Rhode Island Democrats are vying to face him in the general election--the young secretary of state, Matt Brown, and the fortuitously named Sheldon Whitehouse, a former state attorney general. Chafee lucked out when the state's top two Democrats--Representatives Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin--each passed on the race. But even the lesser-known Brown and Whitehouse are plenty threatening. One recent poll showed Chafee beating both men but garnering less than 50 percent against each--the classic sign of an endangered incumbent. And, while Democrats have spent much of the past few years complimenting Chafee's courage and principle, that storyline is starting to change. They are now calling attention to Chafee's repeated votes for Bush's judicial nominees and Cabinet officials, and his backing for Bush's latest proposal to apply price-indexing to Social Security. "He's supposed to be this great maverick-slash-moderate," says one Democratic strategist. "But, at the end of the day, he lacks a certain conviction."

Such talk reflects an understanding among Democrats that their road back to a Senate majority probably requires them to take on Republican moderates about whom they feel a reservoir of goodwill. Just as the GOP has steadily knocked off conservative Southern Democrats, even those willing to work with them on occasion, Democratic strategists say they must do the same. Meanwhile, a Senate Democratic leadership aide says the party has virtually given up hope of getting Chafee to defect. Not only does Chafee apparently harbor a sentimental fidelity to his father's party, but he has already cast his lot with the GOP's 2006 campaign apparatus.

A desire to build Republican goodwill in the face of this new Democratic enmity could be one reason Chafee has been more supportive of Bolton than many Democrats had expected. Democrats point to an interview Chafee gave last December to the Associated Press, in which he suggested that his coming election made him more likely to side with the president: "You tend to be supportive as you come into the [election] cycle. If I need their help occasionally, I'm going to have to help them," Chafee said. (He did add, "I'm not going to sacrifice my principles, either.") Chafee insists that he has always given deference to presidential nominees; but he can't be unaware of the White House's keen interest in his vote.

There's no easy solution for Chafee. As one Rhode Island GOP operative sympathetic to Laffey puts it, Chafee is "on the horns of a dilemma: What makes him a strong general election candidate makes him a weak primary candidate. And what makes him a strong primary candidate hurts him in the general." When I met with him, Chafee seemed despairing of the campaign labors ahead during a coming Senate recess. "Being in cycle, as they call it"--he sighs--"it's hard work, it's always work, work, work. Fund-raising, going all over the state. So recesses you go home and hustle." Just thinking about it seemed to make him tired. It's a heavy load indeed.

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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Sat 25 Jun, 2005 09:08 am
Quote:
Last fall, for instance, he suggested that he would support Bush for president, then withdrew his endorsement, and finally cast a write-in vote for George Bush--senior.


Laughing

The fact that he filled his late father's seat makes sense as to how someone like him got that far. Sounds like an interesting guy.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Aug, 2006 07:28 pm
Chafee is facing a tough test in the elections this year; a double challenge.

First, he has to fend off an agressive campaign from a conservative contender in the primaries, funded by the Club for Growth.

If he makes it through, he faces a strong Democratic rival in the general elections.

More here:

Quote:
Rebellion by Base Roils a Republican Race

Conservative's Run Against Moderate
May Hand Rhode Island Senate Seat to Democrats


By JEANNE CUMMINGS
Wall Street Journal
August 18, 2006; Page A4

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. -- Democrats chafed when Republicans used antiwar Senate candidate Ned Lamont's Connecticut primary victory to portray them as captives of their left wing. There could be some payback next month.

That's when Rhode Island Republicans face their own choice about whether to oust their party's version of a moderate incumbent, antiwar Sen. Lincoln Chafee, in favor of a sharp-edged partisan conservative. Challenger Steve Laffey supports the Iraq war, opposes abortion rights, wants border controls to tighten immigration before any guest-worker program is considered and backs extension of all of President Bush's tax cuts -- all positions contrary to Mr. Chafee's.

The competition is also one of personalities, pitting a wealthy, soft-spoken aristocrat -- Mr. Chafee -- against a self-made businessman -- and current mayor of Cranston -- who thrives on confrontation and competition. Darrell West, a political-science professor at Brown University, says Mr. Laffey "is polarizing. People either love him or hate him." There are no public polls on the primary that quantify their standings, but both candidates are campaigning as if they are in a tight race, and even Mr. Chafee acknowledges his political career could be endangered.

The Sept. 12 Republican clash in Rhode Island is in many ways a byproduct of a strategy embraced by both parties in recent years to move away from courting swing voters and instead relying on core party activists to provide the volunteers, votes and energy for elections and legislative showdowns. Now, that approach could come back to haunt both.

Last summer, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole called Mr. Laffey to Washington to urge him to run for lieutenant governor rather than jump into the Senate primary and jeopardize what was seen as a safe seat, recall Mr. Laffey and Ms. Dole's staff. After he announced his candidacy in September, the NRSC ran ads attacking him.

"It just shows you how, down in Washington, the Republicans have gone off the deep end. They are all about power," Mr. Laffey says.

Still, Mr. Chafee's most urgent argument on the campaign trail is that the nomination of Mr. Laffey will tip the general election toward Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a former state attorney general now in private practice. Polls show Mr. Whitehouse with a formidable lead over Mr. Laffey, but in a dead heat with Mr. Chafee.

"Chafee isn't really out of sync with the electorate, just the Republican base," says Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. In Rhode Island, that isn't a very big base: There are only about 69,000 registered Republicans, compared with 235,000 Democrats and 364,000 independents. The key for Mr. Chafee will be persuading enough unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in the Republican primary, which is allowed under state law, to balance his losses from his own party -- which the 53-year-old senator expects to be sizable.

Mr. Laffey, 44, comes to the race with a compelling success story in Cranston. The former chairman of Morgan Keegan & Co., a Memphis, Tenn., financial-services firm, was elected mayor in 2002 and is credited with imposing tough economic policies -- including spending cuts and higher taxes -- to restore the city's economic health. And, while supporting the war, he criticizes the Bush administration's management of it and has called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.

He has been endorsed by about a half-dozen local Republican officials and is supported by dozens more who signed a May 2005 letter urging him to run. "You have a record of standing up against the powerful special interests and fighting for taxpayers," they wrote in a "Draft Laffey" letter.

But Mr. Laffey is controversial. He sued the school board and took on labor unions when pushing through his economic programs. In 2003, he approved the display of a crèche outside City Hall at Christmas while also welcoming other religious displays.

He apologized last month after referring to some state Republican Party leaders, who had endorsed Mr. Chafee at the state convention, as elitists. "Luckily, those people are getting older and they're dying," he added during a radio program.

Still, Pat Toomey, a former Republican congressman who heads the antitax Club for Growth in Washington, has thrown his support behind Mr. Laffey. The organization is running television ads opposing Mr. Chafee and has raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Laffey's campaign.

With much of the party hierarchy behind Mr. Chafee, Mr. Laffey's strategy is to outhustle them in the street. For nearly a year, he has been walking neighborhoods, attending local government and civic-group meetings making his case for the nomination. His message mixes Republican ideology with Democratic-style appeals to the working class. Mr. Chafee and Mr. Whitehouse both hail from wealthy, politically active families. "It's all they've done. It's what their parents did," Mr. Laffey says. "I'm the ruddy-faced son of a tool maker."

In many ways, Mr. Chafee's struggle is of his own making. Besides opposing the war, he voted against some Bush tax cuts, citing deficit concerns. He opposed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's appointment because he was convinced the jurist would be hostile to abortion rights. And he let it be known that he didn't vote to re-elect the president, writing in former President George H. W. Bush instead.

"I knew this was coming from way back," says Mr. Chafee, at an outdoor festival in Cumberland. "The president's agenda, for better or worse, motivates the party base. I've been hearing from them for the last five years."

To stem the damage, Mr. Chafee has been a regular at Republican spaghetti dinners and diner breakfasts. Even so, he isn't "overly optimistic" that he has persuaded many of them, he says.

He still has advantages, though. As the son of a legendary former governor and senator, John Chafee, his name draws strong support. "Linc's got a lot more class," says Germaine Greene of Warwick, an independent voter who chatted with Mr. Chafee at the Oakland Beach Festival.

Mr. Chafee has ruled out running as an independent if he loses the primary, as Sen. Joe Lieberman is doing after losing the Democratic primary in Connecticut. Asked why he didn't just go along with the president on some votes rather than risk his own party's ire, Mr. Chafee offers no regrets. "I want to win the general election," he says. "Those votes would have been killers for me."
0 Replies
 
kelticwizard
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Aug, 2006 07:49 pm
Chafee has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating, (the higher the more conservative), of 37%. There are Democrats in the Senate with a higher rating.

If the Democrats would be glad to have him, why not switch? Unless he's still hoping to move his party in a more moderate direction. Good luck.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Aug, 2006 09:06 am
Re: Too nice for politics? Senator Lincoln Chafee
Quote:
But recently, he's been in the throes of an unforgiving political reality. For weeks, Chafee said he was "inclined" to support Bolton's nomination, but later mused to a reporter that Rhode Islanders were "overwhelmingly" opposed to it. Nevertheless, he seemed ready to back Bolton--until Ohio Republican George Voinovich balked in an April 19 committee hearing, after which Chafee hemmed and hawed again. As The New Republic went to press, Chafee was pledging to vote for Bolton--but no one would be shocked if he wavered yet another time (or two, or three).

Let me end the suspense: he voted for Bolton.

Quote:
Even if Laffey doesn't run, Chafee will need his party's helping hand.

Laffey is running, and the GOP race is considered a toss-up at this time.

Quote:
Such talk reflects an understanding among Democrats that their road back to a Senate majority probably requires them to take on Republican moderates about whom they feel a reservoir of goodwill.

That is absolutely true. Chafee may have been acceptable to the Democrats about 20 years ago, but the political dynamic has changed too much in the intervening years. There's no reason for Democrats to support (or not oppose) a Republican who occasionally deviates from the GOP line, just as the Republicans had little use for Democrats who were more or less sympatico with the GOP.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Mon 21 Aug, 2006 01:15 pm
Re: Too nice for politics? Senator Lincoln Chafee
joefromchicago wrote:
Let me end the suspense: he voted for Bolton.

joefromchicago wrote:
Laffey is running, and the GOP race is considered a toss-up at this time.

Yep and yep; the original post of this thread is from June 2005. Theres an update almost right above yours.
0 Replies
 
kelticwizard
 
  1  
Reply Sun 17 Sep, 2006 07:54 pm
Well, Chafee won the nomination. Now he has a tough fight in the election.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Sep, 2006 05:25 am
A Vote for Chafee is a Vote for Frist.

That is the real issue in this race. Nice guy doesn't matter.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Thu 14 Feb, 2008 08:08 am
Another likable maverick Congressman is targeted by the GOP base - and this one they managed to already oust in the primaries.

Reading this description, it's easy to see why - eccentrics have little place in today's politics. But what a pity, nevertheless..

Quote:
Gilchrest Just as Content In Defeat
GOP Maverick Is Ready to Go

Washington Post
February 14, 2008

From the beginning, there was no grand scheme, no intricate political calculation, involved. When Wayne Gilchrest decided one day in 1988 to run for Congress, he simply took a lunch break from his job painting houses, got in his old Ford pickup and drove to the state election office in Annapolis.

He didn't even know to take the $100 filing fee and was able to register as a Republican candidate only because the clerk offered to take an IOU. It was just something that popped into his mind, like anything else he had done -- slaughtering chickens at a poultry plant, teaching high school, moving to the Idaho wilderness to count moose. He lost in 1988, but not by that much.

And when he won two years later, to some it was as though Mr. Smith really had gone to Washington -- albeit in the form of a balding, rumpled philosopher.

Gilchrest shunned the Washington party circuit, preferring most nights to drive two hours back to his family and farm on the Eastern Shore. When he stayed in the city, he slept in his office rather than "waste money" on an apartment. He rarely cast votes that followed any party or ideological lines, and he became known as the quintessential political maverick, winning the odd distinction last year of being the Republican most likely to vote against his own party.

But this week, the maverick attitude that won him nine terms in office led to his defeat.

Hammered by four challengers as too moderate, he lost the GOP primary by 11 percentage points to a state senator -- Andy P. Harris -- who spent more than $1 million burnishing his conservative credentials and attacking Gilchrest's.

Yesterday, even after most results had come in and long after Harris had declared victory, Gilchrest refused to call his opponent to concede. Yes, he had lost, he said when reached at home. Even with absentee and provisional ballots uncounted, Harris's lead was probably insurmountable.

"But I just don't see the need to make a phone call," he said, noting Harris's string of attack ads leading up to Tuesday's primary. "I really don't want to congratulate unseemly behavior."

As for losing a job he has held for 18 years, he said, "The integrity of my eternal soul is infinitely more valuable than a pathetic political career."

It was a career that began by chance.

Gilchrest was written off as a joke in 1988 when he challenged four-term Democratic incumbent Roy P. Dyson. Gilchrest was outspent almost 6 to 1, but he came within 1,540 votes of victory after a series of scandals ravaged Dyson's campaign.

Two years later, Gilchrest ran again and won.

In a town obsessed with appearances, he was a different kind of politician.

He had developed a habit of growing a beard and then shaving it all off, partly to avoid daily shaving. For much of 1996, he used a paperclip to hold together his broken glasses.

Perhaps because he had won his seat by claiming the moral high ground, he seemed unwilling to relinquish it. From 1991 until last year, he refused to take money from political action committees, saying he didn't want his votes tainted by business interests.

Prone to philosophical musings, he explained each vote as though giving a treatise on his beliefs, which often clashed with those of his party leaders.

He saved his most impassioned speeches, however, for the environment. He quit teaching in 1976 to become a ranger in the Idaho wilderness. And he carried that passion into Congress, even bringing in a Harvard specialist to tutor then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on biodiversity.

Recently, however, his stands against the party leadership gained visibility, particularly after he was one of two Republicans to vote for a timeline on withdrawing troops from Iraq.

He never seemed interested in becoming a permanent part of the Washington establishment, and he often talked about quitting to pursue other interests. With the end in sight, Gilchrest said, "it feels great, like being released from bondage."

And what will he do now that he's free?

"I plan to probe at the fabric of life," he said.
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