Media reported Chafee's primary victory as posing a challenge only to Democrats, ignored strong showing by Whitehouse

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In their reporting on incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee's (R-RI) win in the September 12 Republican primary, ABC, CBS, and Fox News reported Chafee's win as making the state more challenging for Democrats to win the seat, while failing to note that Chafee's victory by no means assures his re-election and that Chafee's Democratic challenger got more votes in the primary than Chafee and his Republican primary challenger combined.

In their reporting on incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee's (R-RI) win in the September 12 Republican primary, numerous media reported Chafee's win as making the state more challenging for Democrats to win the seat, without noting that Chafee's victory by no means assures his re-election. September 13 reports on ABC, CBS, and Fox News all reported Chafee's victory to be crucial to Republican hopes of maintaining a majority in the Senate, often stressing the challenges Chafee's victory presented to Democrats, without reporting that more Democrats turned out to vote for Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse, whose primary race was not considered to be competitive, than voted for both Chafee and his Republican primary challenger combined.

Further, the same reports also did not mention that the race between Chafee and Whitehouse is virtually tied; most recent polling indicates that Whitehouse holds a lead of two percentage points over Chafee. In fact, many reports did not even mention Whitehouse.

On September 12, Chafee beat his Republican primary challenger Stephen Laffey 54 percent to 46 percent. Chafee has voted against several Bush administration initiatives -- such as the Iraq war, tax cuts, and even against Bush himself in the 2004 presidential election -- and faced a strong challenge from the more conservative Laffey. Yet, despite Chafee's opposition to much of the Bush administration agenda, according to the Chicago Tribune, "the National Republican Senatorial Committee poured more than $1 million into defending" Chafee against Laffey, because "Committee officials said only Chafee could beat a Democrat in November." The Tribune noted that the Republican Party "promised to abandon the state if Laffey were to secure the nomination" because polling data indicated Laffey had virtually no chance of winning the state.

The Rhode Island race is widely considered to be crucial in determining which party will hold the Senate's majority in 2007. Democrats need to pick up six Senate seats in order to regain majority control, and Chafee's seat is considered to be one of the most competitive in the country. Polling shows the race between Chafee and Whitehouse to be statistically tied; a September 3 Rasmussen Reports poll gave Whitehouse an advantage of two percentage points. Other polling also indicates the race to be virtually tied, with some polls showing Chafee to have a small advantage and others showing Whitehouse slightly ahead; no poll conducted since June 14 shows either candidate to hold more than a three-point lead over his opponent. Rasmussen Reports lists the Rhode Island Senate race to be a "toss-up," as do Congressional Quarterly and The New York Times.

Further, Whitehouse's primary race was not considered to be competitive, as evidenced by his defeat of two other candidates with 82 percent of the vote. Yet, despite Whitehouse's noncompetitive race, voters still turned out in larger numbers to vote for Whitehouse than voted for Chafee and Laffey combined. Rhode Island primary results indicate that Whitehouse received 66,019 total votes compared with Chafee and Laffey's combined total of 63,986.

Yet, despite the clear competitiveness of the Chafee-Whitehouse race, some media figures reported Chafee's win as representing a challenge solely to Democrats, and some even presented the race as essentially over. For instance:

    • During the September 13 edition of CBS' The Early Show, Face the Nation anchor Bob Schieffer stated that Republicans breathed "a big sigh of relief" with Chafee's victory because Chafee was "the only Republican, probably, who could win a Senate seat in Rhode Island." Schieffer then noted that Chafee's "father was a Republican Senator there for many, many years;" and concluded, "So the Republicans simply had to keep this seat."
    • On the September 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, correspondent Megyn Kendall reported only that "Republicans fear that if Laffey won the primary, he would lose in the general election in November to the Democratic Candidate, thus costing Republicans the Senate seat in a year they are struggling to hold on to a majority."
    • On the September 13 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, ABC senior national correspondent Jake Tapper reported, "Chafee's win means it will be far tougher for Democrats to regain control of the Senate," making no mention of challenges Republicans face to hold the seat.

From the September 13 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

CHAFEE: Are we pumped? Are we pumped? On to victory.

TAPPER: Chafee's win means it will be far tougher for Democrats to regain control of the Senate. Senator Hillary Clinton barely paused in her beeline to the White House.

From the September 13 edition CBS' The Early Show:

SMITH: It does look good, doesn't it? We like it, too. I want to talk very quickly about Lincoln Chafee. Here's this moderate Republican from Rhode Island, which is kind of a left-leaning state. This is a guy who's been sort of a thorn in the side of the Bush administration for years now. He actually had the support of the Republican Party, is in a primary hunt with a guy who is a real live conservative, and the Republicans are happy about it. Explain it.

SCHIEFFER: Oh, I'm telling you. I mean, the irony is so thick in this thing that I mean, you get it all over your shoes if you walk too far. To Lincoln Chafee, of all the Republicans in the Senate, probably has voted against President Bush, probably has voted against his party more times than any other Republican there. But he is also, frankly, the only Republican, probably, who could win a Senate seat in Rhode Island. His father was a Republican --

SMITH: Right.

SCHIEFFER: -- senator there for many, many years. So the Republicans simply had to keep this seat. Now what happened was that some economic conservatives, this Club for Growth, this very conservative group, put a bunch of money in up there and backed this mayor of the town of Cranston, Steve Laffey. And he made a very formidable candidate.

SMITH: Right.

SCHIEFFER: But what people were worried about was that if he won the primary, there was no way they thought --

SMITH: Win the gen -- yeah.

SCHIEFFER: -- that he could win the general election against the Democrats.

SMITH: Yeah.

SCHIEFFER: So Republicans got behind Chafee and in the end, he won. There's a big sigh of relief among Senate Republicans this morning to get this primary out of the way, I'll tell you for sure.

From the September 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

KENDALL: Now the race brought record-breaking turnout and had Chafee at his victory celebration declaring that moderate Republicans remain alive and kicking. As you said, he opposed President Bush on major issues like the war in Iraq and the president's tax policies, and he even failed to vote for the president, actually writing in a name -- the president's father -- in the last presidential election, but still had the backing of the White House and of the GOP over the more conservative candidate, Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. Why? For the very reasons you just explained: Republicans fear that if Laffey won the primary, he would nonetheless lose in Rhode Island's general election to the Democratic candidate, thus costing Republicans that Senate seat in a year they are struggling to hold on to a majority.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, CBS, ABC
Person
Bob Schieffer, Jake Tapper, Megyn Kendall
Show/Publication
FOX & Friends, The Early Show, Good Morning America
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections, Polling
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