- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Less than a week before Rhode Island voters hold their statewide primary elections, two polls show a 31-point discrepancy as to whether voters will renominate incumbent Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

A Rhode Island College (RIC) poll taken in the last week of August showed Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey leading Mr. Chafee by 17 points, 51 percent to 34 percent.

The day after the RIC poll was released, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) released its own poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, showing Mr. Chafee ahead of Mr. Laffey by 14 points, 53 percent to 39 percent.

“Ours was an internal poll and we weren’t initially going to release it,” said NRSC spokesman Dan Ronayne. “But after we saw the Rhode Island College numbers, we thought it was important to do so.”

The RIC poll said it queried 63 percent self-identified Republicans and 37 percent independents, who can register to vote in either party primary on Tuesday. The NRSC has not released a party ID breakdown for its poll.

Club for Growth Executive Director David Keating, whose conservative group has targeted Mr. Chafee for his moderate ways and is backing Mr. Laffey, says he thinks neither poll is right.

“We think this race is a lot closer than either poll is indicating,” he said. Mr. Keating said the Club for Growth’s internal polling has indicated a “tossup” race.

Differing poll numbers are not uncommon. A recent Strategic Vision survey showed embattled Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, narrowing the gap with his Democrat opponent, Bob Casey Jr., to six points, 47 percent to 41 percent.

Another poll was released by USA Today/Gallup about the same time showing Mr. Casey ahead by 18 points, 56 percent to 38 percent.

A high turnout of independents voting in the Republican primary could sway the race in Mr. Chafee’s favor.

The Providence Journal yesterday reported that more than 1,000 city Democrats have dropped or switched their party affiliation and are expected to vote in the Republican primary. The paper said Chafee supporters think it’s a statewide trend and predict Democrats turned independents might help Mr. Chafee survive Mr. Laffey’s challenge.

Rhode Island has about 68,000 registered Republicans, compared with 236,000 Democrats. More than 365,000 registered independents make up the state’s largest voting bloc.

Mr. Chafee leads by two points among independents, 43 percent to 41 percent, in the RIC poll. Mr. Chafee previously led Mr. Laffey, 49 percent to 31 percent, among unaffiliated voters.

Former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse has the Democratic Party’s backing and is expected to win the Democratic nomination over businessman Carl Sheeler.

Early polling shows Mr. Whitehouse will be a formidable opponent for Mr. Chafee and would defeat Mr. Laffey handily.

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