GOP Moderate Chafee Wins R.I. Primary

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 13, 2006; 9:44 AM

-- In the latest test of the country's politics of polarization, the middle ground held on.

Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee said his victory Tuesday against a conservative challenger sent a message across the nation that moderate Republicans remained "alive and kicking" after beating back a challenger that ran to his political right.

"Partisan politics must not prevail," he said.

The Rhode Island Senate primary was the most closely watched on the last big day of primaries before the November elections, with races also in Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Chafee's primary win over Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey was notable in a year that saw moderates from each party lose primaries to hard-line candidates. He thanked Democratic-leaning independents for supporting him while he got backing from the Bush administration _ with his seat critical to Republicans trying to hold a Senate majority _ even after he bucked them on Iraq, taxes and the environment.

White House press secretary Tony Snow congratulated Chafee, saying on ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday that while Chafee and President Bush disagree on some policies, "so do conservatives from time to time."

"The most important thing is he's a loyal Republican. We're glad to have him aboard," Snow said.

Another test of conservatives versus moderates for an Arizona House seat brought a different outcome, with the potential to play a part in the larger fight for control of Congress.

Conservative former lawmaker Randy Graf, who ran hard against illegal immigration in the district that stretches from Tucson to the Mexican border, beat moderate state Rep. Steve Huffman 43 percent to 37 percent.

National GOP leaders had angered local Republicans when they jumped into the race to support Huffman for the seat left open by retiring GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, worried that Graf might be too conservative to beat Democratic candidate Gabrielle Giffords, a former state legislator.

"We stayed on the issue, kept our campaign on the up-and-up and talked about the issues we've talked about for years, and the voters appreciated that," Graf said.

Each party has struggled this year with intra-party challenges. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, though the incumbent is still running as an independent. Michigan Rep. Joe Schwarz, a moderate Republican targeted by the anti-tax Club for Growth, was defeated.

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