- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate Stephen P. Laffey once told a newspaper columnist that God wanted him to run for mayor of Cranston.

He spent $2,000 to soundproof his mayoral office because of fears people were eavesdropping.

And when journalists noticed he had digitally erased a former friend from photographs on his campaign Web site, he suggested aliens were to blame.

Jokes and funny stories about Mr. Laffey abound among Rhode Island’s political insiders. But now he is mounting what could be a serious primary challenge to Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Many Republican leaders, trying to protect their five-seat majority in the Senate, are supporting the politically moderate Mr. Chafee. They worry that the more conservative Mr. Laffey could win the primary, only to lose the general election in this heavily Democratic state.

But other Republicans are angry with Mr. Chafee for refusing to back President Bush on the war in Iraq, tax cuts and the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. And they have begun lining up behind Mr. Laffey.

The pro-business Club for Growth endorsed the former investment banker and has spent tens of thousands of dollars in recent months on TV ads supporting him. The National Review Online, a conservative publication, recently endorsed Mr. Laffey, saying he is a palatable alternative to Mr. Chafee, who is serving his first full term.

Local Republican groups dissatisfied with Mr. Chafee are starting to back Mr. Laffey.

The Republican Town Committee in Exeter, Mr. Chafee’s hometown, endorsed Mr. Laffey last month. Then-Chairman William Devanney said he was impressed by what he called Mr. Laffey’s conservative Republican approach.

Mr. Chafee “hasn’t been a real voice for the Republican Party,” Mr. Devanney said. “I think he’s taken the Democratic view more often.”

Mr. Laffey, 44, has criticized Mr. Chafee’s pork-barrel spending and has been highly supportive of the military and the war in Iraq.

Mr. Chafee, 52, was the only Republican to vote in 2002 against the resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq. He also said earlier this month that he would not rule out a vote censuring Mr. Bush for his warrantless wiretapping. (Mr. Chafee did not even vote for Mr. Bush in 2004, instead writing in his father, George Bush.)

No independent polls have been released recently on a Laffey-Chafee matchup, and the Republican primary isn’t until Sept. 12.

Nationwide, a few senators face primary challenges, but Mr. Laffey seems to present the greatest threat of an upset, said Dan Ronayne, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Republican candidates in Rhode Island must walk a fine line. The state has more than three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

The winner of the Republican primary will face either Secretary of State Matt Brown or former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse in November, and several statewide polls predict either Democrat would defeat Mr. Laffey.

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