Two words: Lincoln Chafee.
The NRSC has a rule that it supports incumbents. It is a good rule, but the exception should be incumbents who (1)voted against the Iraq invasion; (2)voted against the confirmation of Justice Alito; and (3)voted against the re-election of the president. It is a very big tent party, but a tent has to have an edge, and Chafee is outside of it. Add in the Rhode Island senator’s refusal to lift a finger to reform the Endangered Species Act while chair of the relevant subcommittee and his growing seniority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the very rare case of addition by subtraction surfaces. Chafee’s primary role in the Senate is to make Joe Biden look bright by comparisn, and donors know Chafee ought to be paying inheritance tax on ever paycheck he receives.
Facile comparisons with the lefty netroots campaign to unseat Joe Lieberman ignore the Connecticut senator’s long term status as reliable Democratic vote, standard bearer in ’00, and spokesman for core Democratic values. He’s being purged because of a single issue.
Chafee, by contrast, does not stand with the GOP on any crucial issue except on the issue of organizing the chamber, and if his vote ever became critical to that exercise, at a minimum the GOP would be under threat of a Jeffords jump at any time.
So Steve Laffey may win the GOP primary, and if not, expect even moderate Republicans to cross over to vote for Chafee’s Democratic opponent.
In the meantime, even moderate Republicans hesitate to give to the NRSC which has been spending on Chafee’s behalf. Supporting the occasionally irritating but nevertheless smart and –as his chairmanship of Judiciary has revealed– effective if slow Arlen Specter is one thing. Throwing money away to prop up a legacy, and a legacy that has no talent and no loyalty is wholly another.