How Chafee won

John Fund explains how Lincoln Chafee pulled it out in last night’s Rhode Island primary…from todays Opinion Journal Political Diary:

Give Senator Lincoln Chafee and his national GOP allies credit. When internal polls showed them narrowly trailing conservative challenger Steve Laffey in Rhode Island’s GOP primary over the weekend, they cranked up their get-out-the-vote operation and threw more money into the race.

By way of contrast, when Senator Joseph Lieberman was trailing challenger Ned Lamont in pre-primary polls in late July, he inexplicably cut back his turnout efforts and ended up finishing the race with oodles of unspent money in the bank. It’s no shock that Mr. Chafee won, while Mr. Lieberman is now running as an independent in an effort to save his seat.

Actually, one group of political pros was apparently taken by surprise by Mr. Chafee’s 54% to 46% success at the polls. Yesterday, the political tipsheet Hotline reported: “Steven Laffey’s aides will be shocked should he lose tonight.” The campaign had gone swimmingly for their man. Mr. Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, was sufficiently confident that he even took Monday off from campaigning, in honor of the ceremonies surrounding the fifth anniversary of 9/11. His confidence was misplaced. Despite an exemplary record in pulling Cranston out of a fiscal mess, Mr. Laffey won only 53% of the primary vote in his hometown.

Mr. Chafee won because turnout in Rhode Island’s GOP primary hit 63,000 people, a full 25% higher than the previous record. Many of the new voters were independents or Democrats who crossed over to ensure a victory for the moderate Senator. Mr. Chafee now faces a bruising fall campaign against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. Pundits are already predicting he will go down to defeat in a state that gave John Kerry 61% of its vote. But Mr. Chafee is a man who has already exceeded expectations once in this campaign, and may well do so again.

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