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An Observation

You know what? I seriously doubt that NARAL's endorsement is going to be a decisive factor in the Rhode Island Senate race. Lincoln Chaffee has become a bizarrely anachronistic figure in the US Senate, and provided the Democrats nominate some normal run-of-the-mill Democrat, the state's voters will either dig Chaffee's weird thing and he'll win, or they won't and he'll lose. Fun argument, though!

May 21, 2005 | Permalink


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Totally. NARAL's endorsement is almost certainly not a big deal (unless it helps provoke a primary challenge to Specter...). The question, though, is whether or not NARAL was stupid to make it. Also, whether or not DC sucks.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | May 21, 2005 2:35:46 AM

What Ezta said; there are import general arguments to be derived from NARAL's boazarre tactics here, I think.

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | May 21, 2005 3:50:28 AM

Weirdness never wins. Oh hang on, what about Tricky, Ronnie, Arnie...

Posted by: John | May 21, 2005 3:51:59 AM

Yeah, this totally seems like a bonehead move on NARAL's part. Chafee has to get the nomination first, and unless the conservative movement in RI is totally emsaculated, they're likely to mount a primary challenge over this and other issues on which Chafee is perceived as a RINO.

I know there are a lot of pro-choicers with money, and maybe that fundraising advantage outweighs the risk of a primary challenge. But I can't imagine that he, as an incumbent, has that much trouble raising money.

Posted by: Tim | May 21, 2005 10:44:32 AM

Matt: it's not just NARAL's endorsement of Chafee. It's the idea that NARAL and other pro-choice folks first scared off Langevin(sp?), who would have been a very strong contender, leaving no strong Dem candidate, and THEN they endorsed Chafee. That's a one-two punch that really did make a huge difference.

Posted by: pdp | May 21, 2005 11:23:38 AM

It's possible, I guess, that NARAL is doing this as a slap for even suggesting Langevin, but I figured this was more or less just them endorsing their standard candidate in the fight.

So there's a rights-based interpretation of abortion which comes out of Roe that I tend to think of as 'exceptionalist' for a better term - in the sense that its more or less unique to this era and this country. It leads to a particular narrative that I think has been destructive for the Democratic Party as a whole: being pro-choice is a necessary and sufficient condition for being a Good Democrat or a Good Progressive - its certainly an argument underpinning Democratic support for Chaffee and the other 'Republican Moderates'.

That said, the belief doesn't jibe with reality; I'll admit to my own jaundiced views, but I do know a large number of pro-choice Republicans who are pro-choice as part of a spectrum of beliefs that include cutting Social Security and eliminating the welfare state, nuking unions and generally engaging in all those Republican activities we know and love. A nontrivial number of self-identified pro-choicers voted for Bush. They're not gonna vote Democrat precisely because they find standard Democratic material odious.

Chaffee has been good for NARAL; a more pressing issue now, and I think the one that we've seen Clinton, Kerry, Schumer and Dean wrestling with is whether or not a maximalist platform on abortion has necessarily been good for the Democrats.

Posted by: Mike Collins | May 21, 2005 11:46:40 AM

I'm not sure how much any endorsement matters these days, but the pro-choice groups have long tended to favor Republican candidates in RI, especially Chafee and his father. Which has helped them present themselves to middle class voters, especially women, as moderates. There's a class element here, as well.

I've never seriously thought Chafee would be defeated, and he still has some advantages: incumbency, a strong base in the middle of the state, his name, potential challengers who are inexperienced or not particularly strong. But the national polarization of the electorate is finally having an impact here, weakening his position.

As for a primary challenge, I wouldn't count on it. While there is a growing conservative contingent in the local GOP, it's still pretty small. The state party owes too much to the Chafee family, which for a long time, for all intents and purposes, was the party. So few people vote in Republican primaries in RI that occasionally wacky things happen, but a real challenge would energize a lot of independents to vote in the primary for him. In time, something like that might be possible, but for the moment ideological conservatism remains a largely foreign idea in Rhode Island. And in general, outside attempts to attack local politicians in RI (such as the screechy "too liberal!" ads the Club for Growth or some such group ran against Jack Reed a few years back) have not had significant impact. They don't connect with the local view.

Posted by: JL | May 21, 2005 12:27:54 PM

Since Chaffee equals Frist, the notion that he is good for protecting a woman's right choose is laughable.

Posted by: Ron | May 21, 2005 1:19:25 PM

It seems to me that many of the previous posters have this attitude that NARAL should, by default, endorse a Democratic candidate even when one who stands for everything against the organiztion's reason for existing in the first place. We would not ask the NAACP to support a racist candidate so why should we ask NARAL to do the same.

This idea strikes me as arrogant. A political party should earn an endorsement not expect one.

P.S. I find it interesting that those who claim that access to abortion is a middle class obessesion when in fact restrictions in getting one make it harder for poor women.

Posted by: Micheline | May 21, 2005 2:08:07 PM

"We would not ask the NAACP to support a racist candidate so why should we ask NARAL to do the same."

This sentence should actually read" We would not ask the NAACP to support a racist candidate so why should NARAL support an anti-choice one.

Posted by: Micheline | May 21, 2005 2:11:13 PM

Sorry, I've never agreed w/ the belief that NARAL "scared off" Langevin- but they make a good scapegoat.
Asking pro-choicers to support Dems is not "arrogant"- it's the only sensible thing to do. Moderate Repubs are increasingly becoming irrelevant- and if the filibuster fails, may be unnecessary for the Right to advance its radical agenda.
If Dems take back the Senate, we're back to divided government on the national level, and moderate legislators will become important to get anything done.
Not to mention assuring the nomination of moderate justices, instead of the right's wish list.
Is NARAL,of all organizations, so clueless as to the power the radical right holds now?

Posted by: ronin | May 21, 2005 2:20:24 PM

We would not ask the NAACP to support a racist candidate so why should NARAL support an anti-choice one.

As has already been pointed out, the actual Democratic candidates in the race are pro-choice. Langevin was not, but isn't running. So why endorse a pro-choice candidate who will help keep a pro-life Senate leadership in place over one that would favor a pro-choice leadership? An endorsement won't decide the election, but it helps muddy the waters in Chafee's favor.

Posted by: JL | May 21, 2005 2:27:38 PM

Abortion *is* a binary issue.

Either you think the woman gets to make the decision, or you think a majority of superstitious twits get to make the decision for her.

Anoyne who doesn't recognize this is just blowing smoke.

Posted by: Harry | May 21, 2005 3:23:48 PM

Why is NARAL endorsing a candidate 18 months before the election? Before the Democrats have even chosen a candidate?

Posted by: SqueakyRat | May 21, 2005 6:44:14 PM

Eh - a hypothesis. From NARAL's perspective, endorsing Chaffee is a win-win situation. Both the Democratic candidates are pro-choice, so as long as Democrat wins, they're fine. If Chaffee wins, they're fine. The only situation where they lose is if Chaffee loses to a pro-life Republican candidate in the primary. Therefore, if they're going to invest effort anywhere, it's to make sure that Chaffee wins.

Posted by: Mike Collins | May 21, 2005 7:10:36 PM

Mike --
That makes a kind of sense, I guess. But is it worth helping the GOP keep control of the Senate, from NARAL's viewpoint?

Posted by: SqueakyRat | May 21, 2005 7:17:18 PM


I dunno - I'm a pro-life Democrat, so my impressions of the inner workings of NARAL are gonna be pretty jaundiced. My point of view, take it for what it's worth, is that there's a tendency among Democrats to view abortion issues through a lens that is pretty much unique to the post-Roe United States (such as it being a binary issue being pushed by a collection of 'superstitious twits'). I don't want to get into a flamewar about the legitimacy of the argument, but I think it's worth considering its universality. It's quite possible to be actively pro-choice and Republican - and as long as you don't a priori assume that abortion rights are directly coupled to Democratic principles it makes sense.

Whether it makes sense in the long run for NARAL? I dunno; my personal opinion is that the GOP uses pro-lifers to garner votes and that the Democrats are only now realizing that they've been helping the GOP do this. Consequently, I'm not exactly expecting massive changes in abortion policy in the U.S. regardless of which party is in power. It's completely possible that NARAL shares this opinion with me; alternatively, NARAL could be incredibly stupid from a strategic point of view. I have no idea.

Posted by: Mike Collins | May 21, 2005 7:42:55 PM

The moderates only function in the GOP at present is to provide cover for the true nature of the beast. That's why democrats should never vote for republicans, ever. Or until sanity is restored to the GOP. But I repeat myself.

Posted by: Eric | May 22, 2005 12:48:06 AM

Lincoln Chaffee is not beatable in Rhode Island. Come to Providence and understand. Even I will likely vote for him, and I am as Democratic as they come. The candidates proposed against Chafee are far less attractive, and the national party ought to wake up.

Posted by: Jennifer | May 23, 2005 2:15:18 PM

The idea that an anti-abortion candidate can win against Chaffee is looney, and every sane Democrat knows this and Republicans know this and will never challenge Chaffee here.

Posted by: Jennifer | May 23, 2005 2:18:58 PM

Matt, I too went to Harvard, but I grew up in Rhode Island and know a thing or three. Playing an anti-abortion candidate against Chaffee is looney here and also makes me wonder about what the Democratic Party is about. When I wonder, believe there is a problem, and I speak for every person I am close to.

Posted by: Jennifer | May 23, 2005 2:24:44 PM

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