Chafee Gives the G.O.P. Many Reasons to Smile

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STEPHAN SAVOIA / AP

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., before addressing supporters at his election night rally in Providence, R.I., Tuesday Sept. 12, 2006.

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Perhaps most importantly, the Chafee victory shows that moderates, despite what many pundits are saying these days, aren't dead yet. When Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, and Michigan Representative Joe Schwarz, a Republican, were both defeated in primaries over the summer, there was much talk about how the center in American politics was failing, as both political parties were increasingly intolerant of moderates and activists came to wield more influence. This may still be true, as one of the key differences between Chafee's race and Liebermanís is that independents could vote in the former's race. Independents in fact helped Chafee win on Tuesday and they're now helping Lieberman hold the lead in polls since heís become an independent candidate.

Tuesday's other primary races provided a couple of other clear implications. First, Lieberman's loss last month didn't signal the death of the pro-war Democrat. In New York Hillary Clinton won overwhelmingly over her anti-war challenger, Jonathan Tasini, in a race that was never competitive. The anti-war left did little to oppose her in the race, suggesting Liebermanís contest was a special case. Keith Ellison, who won in a crowded Democratic primary in a liberal district around the Twin Cities in Minnesota, is in position to become the first Muslim to be elected to the Congress.

And Barack Obama is now very likely to remain the Senate's only black member. Kwesi Mfume, the former head of the NAACP, lost a primary against House Democrat Ben Cardin for the Senate seat in Maryland. Cardin will now face Michael Steele, the African-American Republican who is the state's lieutenant governor. Polls showed that Steele had some chance of winning against Mfume, whose support was small outside of his base of black Democrats. But that limited base cost him against Cardin, and the veteran congressman is a heavy favorite in a Democratic state like Maryland. The other African-American Senate candidate is Harold Ford in Tennessee, a conservative state that hasn't elected a Democrat since Al Gore represented it. And Ford, facing a millionaire opponent named Bob Corker, couldn't have been happy seeing Chafee win; now the Democrats will have to spend money that could have gone to Ford's campaign trying to give Chafee the knockout blow that Laffey couldnít deliver.

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