Despite his pronounced independence streak, the national party rallied behind Chafee, seeing him as the only way to hold a seat from the most Democratic state in the nation where 11 percent of voters are registered as Republicans.
Challenger Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, who garnered 46 percent to Chafee’s 54 percent, ran a blustery campaign, arguing that Chafee’s independence from the GOP made him almost irrelevant and that his unpredictable voting patterns suggest a “political identity crisis.” Laffey received much support from the anti-tax Club for Growth.
In his victory speech in Providence, Chafee said the state’s voters “said yes to thoughtfulness, yes to honesty and yes to independence.”
In the last few weeks, members of the GOP establishment, including first lady Laura Bush, campaigned for Chafee. Polls showed that a social conservative such as Laffey would not have been able to beat a Democrat. National Republican officials announced last week that they would pull their resources out of Rhode Island should Laffey prevail, effectively conceding the election to Democrats.
White House press secretary Tony Snow congratulated Chafee Wednesday, saying that although Chafee and President Bush disagree on some policies, “the most important thing is he’s a loyal Republican. We’re glad to have him aboard.”
Chafee, who had said an appearance by the current president would “not be helpful in this Democratic state,” said he did not even vote for George W. Bush in 2004 and instead wrote in the name of the president’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, as a protest vote.
However Chafee’s return to Washington is not ensured. Polls show a tough contest against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a well-known political figure and former attorney general.
Democrats hope the last few weeks of the Republican primary hurt Chafee’s general election prospects due to the show of support from the national party and the negative tenor of the debates and television ads, The Washington Post reported.
The senator himself expressed regret that the tone of the campaign had turned nasty. But, he added, “negative ads do work.”