Polimom’s been having lots of fun following the coverage and analysis from Rhode Island’s primary yesterday, where incumbent (and moderate) Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee beat his much-farther-right challenger. (WaPo)
PROVIDENCE, R.I., Sept. 12 — Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, a moderate who has frequently clashed with the Bush administration, beat back a strong conservative challenger Tuesday night in the GOP primary in Rhode Island.
The victory came amid heavy turnout, after the same Republican establishment that Chafee has so often defied rallied to his side with money and logistical support for a vigorous get-out-the-vote effort. While there is little personal affection for Chafee at the White House, operatives there and in the Republican Party leadership calculated that he is the GOP’s best chance of holding the seat in a Democratic-leaning state in November.
While the GOP’s support for the moderate candidate is what one would expect in a Democratic state, I think it’s a step too far to translate R.I.’s results to a national trend. (CNN)
Chafee, 53, was appointed to the Senate in 1999 after his father, Sen. John Chafee, died in office. He won election the following year. Like his father, Chafee is an economic conservative and social moderate — a classic New England Republican whose more liberal views have drawn support from unaffiliated voters and some Democrats.
We could pack Congress with this political type (or its Democratic counterpart) and Polimom would be just fine, but the “classic New England Republican”,would hardly be considered a Republican at all in some of the truly crimson states. … which is why I’m not convinced Chafee’s election sheds much light on how the national elections will look. Since the labels “Republican” and “Democrat” translate differently in different parts of the country, I think things just got much fuzzier overall.
I do think that voters are going to vote for change this year, but I’ve never been convinced that they’re focused on Rep v. Dem so much as on a rejection of the partisanship. One doesn’t have to swing all the way across to the Democrats to find a GOP moderate…. or vice-versa. (See Shane Sklar) Time‘s coverage says:
Perhaps most importantly, the Chafee victory shows that moderates, despite what many pundits are saying these days, aren’t dead yet. When Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, and Michigan Representative Joe Schwarz, a Republican, were both defeated in primaries over the summer, there was much talk about how the center in American politics was failing, as both political parties were increasingly intolerant of moderates and activists came to wield more influence. This may still be true, as one of the key differences between Chafee’s race and Lieberman’s is that independents could vote in the former’s race. Independents in fact helped Chafee win on Tuesday and they’re now helping Lieberman hold the lead in polls since he’s become an independent candidate.
To me, this is the most important aspect of Chafee’s primary win: it was an open primary, and Independents could weigh in. In CT, what we saw was what the Democrats, and only the Democrats, were pushing for.
And there, in a nutshell, is the problem for the mute mighty middle. Many are not registered to either party, and as a result are shut out of many primaries… which often translates into a choice between two extremes in the general elections. If nothing else, this demonstrates why it’s important to open the primaries across the board; it’s behind a great deal of the voter disenfranchisement and increasing polarization.
So…. does this signify the wakening of the sleeping moderate giant? It’s terribly premature to say so. If it is, though, then we can expect to see a trend back toward the middle by one of the parties… and I’d guess it to be the Republicans, because the Democrats, as a party, have been pretty vocal in their rejection of the center.
November is really going to be interesting.