Rhode Island: A Republican bastion?

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Usually, when you think of Rhode Island, you might think of a tranquil place–say, Newport. It's a moderate state, no doubt–overwhelmingly Democratic, but it has elected a Republican to the Senate for the past 30 years.

This time, it's Sen. Lincoln Chafee, arguably the most liberal Republican in the Senate, who is fighting for his political life. Steve Laffey–a fiscal conservative–is making a primary run at Chafee, who took over his father's seat in 1999. It's a nasty race, with Laffey accusing Chafee of being quirky, undependable, and a big spender; Chafee accuses Laffey of being unsteady. All in all, a mudfest.

But here's the rub: In this fight between a fiscal conservative and an unpredictable Republican, the White House is going for the unpredictable guy, Chafee. And when you consider Chafee's record, it's an even stranger decision. After all, he hasn't exactly been a dependable GOP vote: Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against the war in Iraq and oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. He opposed the president's tax cuts and disagrees with him on abortion rights. In fact, he didn't even vote for the president in 2004!

All cause for concern, except that Rhode Island is a symbol of moderation. So the White House and the Republican National Committee have calculated that only Chafee can preserve the seat in the "R" column. Since independents can actually vote in the state's Republican primary, the GOP finds itself in a sticky situation–going after independent voters more than actual Republicans, who are turned off by Chafee's liberal politics.

In the end, it's a sign of how worried the GOP is about losing the Senate. Its majority hangs by a slim six seats. If Chafee loses the primary today, Republicans have said they'll write off Rhode Island. Now that's a problem.