Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee is the only senator running for re-election who is raising less money than his primary opponent and both Democrats running to replace him, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

“This is an ominous sign. If Chafee can’t get the financial support in his party’s primary, he’s not going to get the voter support,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Phil Singer.

Sarah Chamberlain, spokeswoman for the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that supports Mr. Chafee, says the funding disparity is “not a big deal.”

“Chafee is not the senator who raises the most money. He raises what he needs,” said Ms. Chamberlain.

Ms. Chamberlain added that her group has recently conducted a private poll of the race that shows Mr. Chafee “considerably up in the polls” compared to his two prospective Democrat opponents.

In the first fundraising quarter of 2006, Mr. Chafee raised $300,204 to his opponent Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey’s $328,276 during the same period, according to the FEC. Democrat front-runner Sheldon Whitehouse raised $541,216 while Secretary of State Matt Brown pulled in $357,277 during the same period.

“Their fundraising numbers are all fairly low considering this is one of the most targeted races in the country,” said Quinn McCord, who covers Senate races for the Hotline, a nonpartisan publication.

“But that may not matter, given that Rhode Island’s a small state with one TV media market, and three of the four candidates have the ability to self-fund to varying degrees,” Mr. McCord said.

Mr. Chafee has previously stated he is willing to spend some of his own money on the race.

Conservatives have long criticized Mr. Chafee for his moderate to liberal voting record. Still, some Republicans say it would be a mistake to support Mr. Laffey, who is viewed as a more conservative but potentially less viable candidate in the general election.

“The bottom line is that Lincoln Chafee will have the resources to get his message out,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Nick.

“Chafee is the only candidate who can win statewide,” Mr. Nick said.

The Chafee campaign still leads Mr. Laffey in overall fundraising, with $1.9 million. Mr. Chafee also leads Mr. Laffey in the amount of eligible money for their primary campaign, $1.5 million to $901,000.

Nonetheless, Mr. Chafee’s critics are celebrating the new numbers. “We’re thrilled to see it,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey.

“Steve Laffey is running a great campaign. He’s well on his way to winning this race.”

Mr. Chafee’s numbers stand out because other Republican senators in tight races such as Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Conrad Burns of Montana outraised their Democrat opponents.

Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman is facing a strong primary challenge from Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont, but outraised Mr. Lamont $964,861 to $710,421 last quarter.

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