GOP May Wait a Long Time to Make Gains in R.I.

Posted June 25, 2007 at 6:10pm

Now that Democrats hold all four of Rhode Island’s Congressional seats, the Ocean State is not expected to feature a competitive House or Senate race anytime soon. [IMGCAP(1)]

No Republicans have stepped forward to challenge Sen. Jack Reed or Reps. Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin in 2008. In fact, no Republican has even been mentioned as a potential candidate for any of the three Democrats facing re-election next year.

“The Republican bench is thin because in the Democratic wipeout last year, there were Republicans who lost

at the city level and the town council level,” said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist.

Beyond taking out then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R), President Bush’s unpopularity in Rhode Island affected “the entire ballot” last year, said West, who oversees the school’s political polling.

Not much changed in the statehouse, but West attributed that to the fact that Democrats went into the 2006 elections already controlling 85 percent of the Legislature.

Republican Gov. Don Carcieri did win re-election, but he was the GOP’s only bright spot.

Democrats hold every other statewide office.

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian (R) was mentioned as a potential House candidate — with a real shot of winning — when it looked like Langevin would give up his 2nd district seat to challenge Chafee last year. But Langevin decided to skip the Senate race, paving the way for former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse to oust Chafee.

Avedisian remains one of his party’s most viable candidates for higher office.

State Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere and state House Minority Leader Robert Watson also are mentioned as Republicans who could move up the ladder.

Both live in the 2nd district, where Bush took just 41 percent of the vote in 2004.

A couple of well-known Republicans might go a few more rounds before stepping aside for up-and-coming party members.

Former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, who subjected Chafee to a brutal Republican primary last year, is just beginning to resurface.

His book titled “Primary Mistake” should hit bookshelves in September.

The Chafee-Laffey primary exposed a raw fissure within the larger Republican Party that left hard feelings on both sides.

National GOP leaders backed Chafee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent considerable resources helping the son of the late Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) through the primary.

Laffey was supported by the Club for Growth and other pro-business, anti-tax groups and activists who did not shy away from criticizing the GOP’s Congressional leaders.

Laffey is still plenty bitter at the “Republican Party establishment” and has promised to “name names” in his book.

“It’s a vehicle for him to get back in the political limelight,” said West, who predicts Laffey is gearing up for a 2010 gubernatorial candidacy.

“He would actually run better in a governor’s race,” West said of Laffey. Running for Senate, “you get George Bush hung around your neck, but Republicans have been fairly successful … at the gubernatorial level,” West said.

Carcieri is barred from seeking another term so Republicans and Democrats alike are jockeying for position.

Governors such as Carcieri, former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney left a winning model other Republicans could follow, he said.

The Democrats have a bevy of high-profile pols who would like to succeed Carcieri.

Most often mentioned are Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, state Attorney General Patrick Lynch and state Treasurer Frank Caprio.

Former Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, who lost to Carcieri last year, might want another bite at the apple as well.

If Cicilline leaves his mayoral post to run for governor, 2010 could be an interesting election.

West said it is very possible that Laffey will make a gubernatorial run, while Chafee might vie to become mayor of Providence. He already has served as mayor of Warwick, the state’s second-largest city.

The Chafee family recently moved to Providence. And Chafee, now a visiting fellow at Brown University, seemed to enjoy his years as mayor more than his time in the Senate.

On the Democratic side, it looks as if the benchwarmers will have to cool their heels for at least a few more years.

Whitehouse just won his seat last year and Reed, 57, is running for a third term.

Langevin demonstrated his contentment in the House when he passed up the chance to run for Senate, as did Kennedy, who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

Should either seat become open for any reason, state House Deputy Majority Leader Patrick O’Neill, state Rep. Betsy Dennigan and state Sen. Paul Moura are Democrats who could all be interested in Kennedy’s 1st district seat.

State Rep. Peter Ginaitt (D) and state Sen. Joshua Miller (D) likely would weigh an open-seat contest in the 2nd district.

State Rep. Edwin Pacheco (D), who is only 25 and already serving his second term, also is seen as an up-and-comer within the party.