- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Of the many primaries held Tuesday, conservatives and Republicans were most interested in the outcome of the Rhode Island Senate race between incumbent Lincoln Chafee and Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey.

The Republican National Committee set politics above ideology in backing Mr. Chafee. In a heavily Democratic state, Mr. Chafee has survived as a Republican by opposing the Iraq war and President Bush’s tax cuts. He even voted against Mr. Bush in 2004. But we’re talking about the liberal Northeast, where the prospects of a conservative attaining a national office are close to nil.

That strategy, however, didn’t work as well in Arizona’s eighth district, where the RNC-backed Steven Huffman and anti-amnesty hawk Randy Graf battled for a seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe. Mr. Graf won with a 43 percent plurality by running a hardline campaign supporting a tough enforcement strategy against illegal immigration. There’s no way to know if this means immigration issues will play strongly in the general election, as previous primaries across the country have gone both ways on immigration. But in a border state where the victor was resoundingly opposed by both the national party and the retiring Mr. Kolbe, Mr. Graf’s immigration rhetoric has obviously touched a nerve.

On the Democratic side, for the most part anti-war candidates lacking their party’s endorsement went down in defeat. One major exception was Carol Shea-Porter’s upset victory over Jim Craig in New Hampshire’s first district. Elsewhere, in Minnesota’s fifth district, Keith Ellison won his primary battle and could be the first Muslim elected to Congress. His Republican opponent, Alan Fine, has already begun questioning Mr. Ellison’s past ties to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam which go back to 1989.

Beneath all this are two trends worth noting: a modest, continuing rise in the president’s approval rating and the steady decline in gasoline prices. If both trends continue, the focus of November’s elections could gradually shift from national issues, which favor Democrats, to local ones, which may favor Republicans. But Republican party professionals are hardly sanguine. The potential for a majority-crushing wave remains very real.

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