Blue State Republicans and Red State Democrats

Chris Cillizza argues that Rhode Island’s “Republican” Senator Lincoln Chafee is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t position with regards to the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

Chafee faces a primary challenge from Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R). Should he get through that race, he will face off against either former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (D) or Secretary of State Matt Brown (D) in a state that went for the Democratic presidential candidate by 20 points in 2004.


Asked about the seeming conundrum, Chafee campaign manager Ian Lang said that “from a purely political standpoint this is a lose-lose situation.” Lang said Chafee will put aside political interests, however, and make a decision that is in the “best interests of the country and the best interests of Rhode Island.”

Laffey, who is running as a populist outsider and to Chafee’s ideological right, has already sought to make the senator’s indecision on Alito an issue in the campaign. “As long as we have known Senator Chafee he has shied away from taking a firm stance on the critical issues of the day,” Laffey said in a recent news release. The release also noted that Chafee didn’t vote for President George W. Bush in 2004, recalling Chafee’s decision to cast a symbolic vote for former President George H.W. Bush instead.

A source close to Laffey said “voting against Alito, and doing so in the indecisive manner in which [Chafee] is conducting himself, underscores exactly what Rhode Island Republicans most dislike about Chafee — he sides with the liberals on all the big issues, and he’s weak and can’t make up his mind.”

Such is the life of a Blue State Republican. Life isn’t much better for Red State Democrats. Just ask Tim Kaine, who was just elected governor of Virginia and selected to give the Democratic response to President Bush’s State of the Union Address. USA Today’s Jill Lawrence notes that he is getting hammered by his own side.

“What the hell are they thinking?†Arianna Huffington demanded on In a post that drew 262 responses mostly echoing her irritation, she accused Democrats of choosing “someone whose only claim to fame is that he carried a red state†when they badly need to make the case that “the GOP is not the party that can best keep us safe.â€


Bloggers at, and other liberal sites showered cyberspace with alternatives: new faces — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer — and famous faces — Al Gore, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.


Liberal writer Ezra Klein was unimpressed. He called Kaine “a squat, squinty, pug-nosed fellow†with little oratorical skill.

Yikes. The irony is that, as annoying as he is to most of us who vote Republican, Chafee is the most conservative man who could conceivably get elected to the Senate from Rhode Island. Ditto, were Kaine any more liberal, he would be unelectable in Virginia.

While Chafee may well be a Republican in Name Only, he is, if nothing else, a vote for a Republican Majority Leader and Republican chairman for every committee in the Senate. Indeed, even if his general election opponent voted exactly the same as Chafee on every non-procedural vote for the next six years, Chafee would be radically better for Republicans (and worse for Democrats).

That doesn’t mean that Chafee should be immune from criticism by Republican partisans or given chairmanships of key committees. But a little perspective is called for.

Correction: Chafee’s name is now spelled “Chafee” consistently throughout the essay.

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, Blogosphere, Congress, Supreme Court, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Todd Pearson says:

    Sorry, but it is Chafee. One “f”.

    Anyway, I seriously considered giving Sen. Kerry my vote in 2004. (See here.) He is now working hard to convince us that his “centrist” approach in 2004 had nothing to do with conviction. (See here.)

    I have lots of problems with GWB, but at least he believes in something and sticks with it, for better or worse politically. Kerry has confirmed that he is a “finger in the wind” politician who is going to be embarrassed when he runs again in 2008.

    The office of the person who received the Democratic nomination for President in 1984 (and lost by historic proportions) is very close to mine, and everyday when I see him I am reminded of my respect for him as a public servant, as well as the class he has exhibited since.

    Senator Kerry, I work with Vice President Mondale. (Okay, we take the same elevator to the same floor every morning.) Senator, you’re no Walter Mondale. (Or Paul Wellstone.) Your opinion is for sale based on where at a particular point in time you think the votes are, and I can’t respect that.