Rhode Island: Former Chafee Foes May Seek Kennedy Seat

Posted February 12, 2010 at 5:30pm

Without Rep. Patrick Kennedy on the ballot in Rhode Island, Republicans could find themselves able to compete for a seat that had been solidly in the Democratic column.

Kennedy’s decision not to try for a ninth term in Congress but instead take his life in “a new direction” was one of the bombshell announcements in a week that also brought retirement decisions from Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Diane Watson (D-Calif.)

Republican John Loughlin, a state Representative, had a campaign well under way before the race became an open-seat contest.

Now, however, he may be in for a primary.

Among the names being mentioned as possible candidates is former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, who almost defeated then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee in the GOP primary in 2006.

Another politician who went up against Chafee and lost could surface on the Democratic side: former Rep. Bob Weygand, who was defeated by Chafee in a Senate challenge in 2000.

Weygand represented the state’s 2nd district from 1997 to 2001.

Democrats have a deep bench in Rhode Island, and there has been no shortage of potential candidate names that have been floated since the news of Kennedy’s retirement decision.

National Democrats have mentioned Providence Mayor David Cicilline, state party Chairman Bill Lynch and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts.

Cicilline confirmed he is looking at the race. Other potential candidates include former Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty (D) and former state Rep. Betsy Dennigan (D).

Dennigan is currently challenging Rep. Jim Langevin in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, but she lives in Kennedy’s district.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement that he believes his party will keep the seat in November.

“We are confident that a Democrat who shares Congressman’s Kennedy commitment to public service, particularly during these difficult economic times, will continue to serve the 1st District with the same passion that Congressman Kennedy has throughout his tenure in Congress,” Van Hollen said.