GOP Sen. Chafee Says He Will Not Run Again
By Helen Dewar
"It's time to try something else," the 76-year-old lawmaker, who has been in public life for most of the past 44 years, said at an emotional news conference at the Rhode Island State House in Providence. "I want to come home."
Chafee, a Yankee blue blood with an unassuming manner and a common touch, beat the odds by winning repeatedly as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, and his decision raises the prospect that Democrats can take the seat next fall.
But Democrats also suffered a setback yesterday when former Nevada governor Bob Miller (D) said he will not run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.). Miller had been wooed intensely by Democratic leaders but declined, saying, "I like living in Nevada." Former representative John Ensign (R), who narrowly lost a bid for the Senate last year, is already running for the seat.
Also, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) was described by Republicans as leaning increasingly toward running to succeed retiring Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D), although her spokesman denied a report that she has decided to run. She plans to decide next month, an aide said.
After his announcement, Chafee was inundated with phone calls from many prominent Republicans and Democrats he has worked with, ranging from President Clinton to former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole (R). Clinton told Chafee he was a "wonderful senator" who would be missed and that he [Clinton] was "interested in getting things done" with Chafee during their remaining time in office, according to Chafee spokesman Nicholas Graham.
Often at risk of retribution by critics, Chafee carved out an influential niche in the Senate, splitting with conservatives on issues ranging from tax cuts to abortion and working Democratic moderates on many issues, most recently including health care. He worked arduously but unsuccessfully to bridge partisan gaps over Clinton's health care plan in 1994 and last year's proposals to regulate health maintenance organizations. He was one of five Senate Republicans who rejected both articles of impeachment against Clinton.
But Chafee made his biggest mark on the environment and was hailed by the Sierra Club as "one of the preeminent environmental legislators of the last 25 years."
Over the past two decades, including the last four years as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chafee was instrumental in passage of major air and water legislation, championed wetlands and barrier island protection and opposed conservatives' efforts to gut endangered species laws. He said he wanted most to be remembered for his environmental work and would spend the rest of his Senate career on efforts to combat global warming. "I worry about who will take on that mantle" among Republicans after he leaves, Chafee said in the interview.
Chafee's independence came at a price. He was ousted by conservatives from the GOP's third-ranking leadership post in 1990 but survived behind-the-scenes threats to his committee chairmanship in the last few years.
A World War II and Korean War veteran, three-term governor and secretary of the Navy, Chafee lost a race for the Senate in 1972 but won in 1976 and kept the state's dominant Democrats at bay in three subsequent races.
Among Democrats, Rep. Robert A. Weygand already is gearing up to run. Other possibilities include Rhode Island Secretary of State James R. Langevin; Myrth York, who ran twice for governor; and former lieutenant governor Richard Licht, who ran against Chafee. Republican possibilities include Chafee's son, Lincoln, who is mayor of Warwick, the state's second-largest city, and former representative Ron Machtley.
Chafee's decision to leave helps balance the two parties' earlier retirement losses: Bryant, Lautenberg and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y.) for the Democrats, and Connie Mack (Fla.) for the Republicans. But Democrats' chances of winning back the Senate, which Republicans now control by a 55-45 margin, remain low.
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