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Iraq Dominates Senate Races in Rhode Island, Connecticut

Two moderate incumbents in New England, Sens. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., are fighting re-election battles against challengers who accuse them of giving too much support to President Bush's policy in Iraq. Political reporters discuss the upcoming Senate races.

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  • MARARET WARNER:

    Tonight, we look at two Senate campaigns in neighboring northeastern states, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Both races have been dominated by the same issue: the Iraq war. And both feature incumbents — one a Republican, the other a Democrat — who are known for their independent streaks, yet are under fire by their opponents for being too close to President Bush.

    In Rhode Island, first-term Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, is being challenged by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a former state attorney general. And in Connecticut's three-way race, three-term Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, running as an independent, is facing Democrat Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman who beat him in the August primary, as well as Republican Alan Schlesinger, a former state legislator.

    For insight into these races, we turn to Rick Klein, who's been covering the Rhode Island campaign for the Boston Globe, and Mark Pazniokas, political reporter for the Hartford Courant.

    And welcome, Rick and Mark. Rick, beginning with you and Rhode Island, Chafee is reportedly having a very difficult time. Just how vulnerable is he and why?

  • RICK KLEIN, The Boston Globe:

    Well, Rhode Island is one of the most Democratic states in the country. So coming into this election cycle, Democrats have had their eyes on this seat. They see a Republican in a northeastern Democratic state like Rhode Island and they think this is a real opportunity.

    And really what's happened here is that, even though voters know Lincoln Chafee very well — his father was a senator; he's been in the Senate since 1999 — and they respect his independence, what the Democratic candidate, Whitehouse, has been able to do is to tie him to the president and say really his vote for the majority leader in the Senate means that the Republican agenda will be empowered.

    So it hasn't been about Lincoln Chafee. It hasn't been a referendum on Lincoln Chafee. It really has been a referendum on President Bush. And if it is about President Bush and not Lincoln Chafee, Lincoln Chafee could very well lose.