Rhode Island's GOP primary election stays competitive as 9 states hold primaries

Tuesday, September 12th 2006, 8:39 am
By: News On 6

An embattled Senate incumbent in Rhode Island and an open House seat in Arizona gave Republican primary voters a choice Tuesday between moderates and conservatives, as both parties watched the races with eyes on the larger fight for control of Congress.

The last big day of primaries before the November elections also brought intriguing Democratic contests for Senate in Maryland and a House seat in Minnesota. In all, nine states and the District of Columbia voted, with the other states including Delaware, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Rhode Island received the most attention, with a conservative challenger _ Cranston, R.I., Mayor Steve Laffey _ posing a substantial threat to moderate Republican incumbent Lincoln Chafee.

Chafee won support from the Republican establishment, even though he has consistently bucked the Bush administration and the GOP-led Congress on the environment and abortion, and was the lone Republican to vote against the use of military force in Iraq.

But if he loses the primary, polls show Democratic nominee Sheldon Whitehouse, a former attorney general, would be the likely winner in the fall. With Democrats hopeful they can gain the six seats needed to win control in the Senate, that makes the seat critical.

Polls a month before the primary showed the two Republicans running even.

The House race in Arizona for a seat left open by retiring moderate GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe also has drawn national money and interest. Eleven major-party candidates for the seat that stretches from Tucson to the Mexican border were entered in the party primaries.

National GOP leaders angered Republican candidates when they jumped into the race to support state Rep. Steve Huffman, a moderate who in a recent poll was trailing a former state lawmaker, Randy Graf.

Party officials have expressed concerns Graf may be too conservative to win the seat in November.

The two leading Democratic contenders are former state legislator Gabrielle Giffords and former local television anchor Patty Weiss.

In Maryland, Democrats decided between Rep. Ben Cardin and Kweisi Mfume, former head of the NAACP, for a Senate candidate to fill Paul Sarbanes' seat. The winner will face GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who _ if he won _ would be the lone black Republican in the Senate. He has nine rivals for the Republican nomination but is expected to win easily.

In Minnesota, Democrats were picking among four candidates for a House seat in a district that includes Minneapolis. The party backed state legislator Keith Ellison, who would be Congress's first Muslim member if he won. But Ellison found himself in a tough, four-way battle.


_ District of Columbia voters choose between City Council member Adrian M. Fenty and longtime council Chairman Linda W. Cropp in the mayoral primary. In heavily Democratic Washington, the primary is tantamount to the general election.

_ New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer looked to be coasting to a primary win for governor against Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi. Spitzer is expected to easily win in the fall. And one-term Sen. Hillary Clinton faced a long shot anti-war candidate in the primary.

_ Also in New York, the Democratic primary for attorney general pits former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo _ son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo _ against Mark Green, the former New York City Public Advocate.