In the end, the difference between the senatorial races in Connecticut and Rhode Island proved to be more important than their similarities.
The Rhode Island primary race pitted Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee against conservative opponent Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey; the Connecticut race pitted Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman against progressive candidate Ned Lamont.
The cheering sections for each insurgent were far different. Lamont’s campaign was pushed forward by progressives warming their hands around blog bonfires. Lieberman parted company with the progressive wing of his party – the Democrat Party no longer has a conservative wing – on the issue of the Iraq war when he publicly supported President Bush’s view of the conflict, a posture that aroused the antipathies of progressives at a time when the war was retrogressing.
National Republicans – not conservatives; they are not the same thing – formed an important part of Chaffe’s cheering section. Fearing a loss of support in the senate, Republican bigwigs supported both Chafee and Lieberman. The support cheered both incumbents, though Lieberman would be loathe to admit it, and Chaffee benefited from some nasty ads underwritten by nervous national Republicans.
Primary structures in Connecticut and Rhode Island are profoundly different. A Providence Journal reporter noted the difference the day before the primary votes were tallied: “Rhode Island has a hybrid primary, meaning independents -- technically called unaffiliated voters -- can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Registered Republicans are limited to voting in the GOP primary, and enrolled Democrats can cast ballots only in their party's primary.”
When Tom D’Amore, senator and governor Lowell Weicker’s chief aide, was the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, he proposed a similar scheme. Unwilling to commit suicide, Republicans rebuffed him. After losing to Lieberman, Weicker ran for governor as a petitioning candidate and won. When Weicker, who yoked Connecticut with an income tax, declined to run again for governor (wonder why?), D’Amore drifted off to work on other state campaigns, backing one notable winner (Jesse Ventura) and slew of losers. D’Amore is now working for Ned Lamont -- who would not be the nominee of the Democrat Party had D’Amore’s plan to invite unaffiliateds to vote in primaries been adopted by both parties.
Ain’t life full of sweet ironies?
The opening of primary doors to unaffiliateds means that Republicans and Democrats in Rhode Island have lost control their own selection process. That is not the case in Connecticut. The progressives who lashed Lieberman won’t permit their influence to be diluted by the admission of moderates to the primary decision making process, and extra-party forces such as DailyKos and MoveOn.org that provided campaign support to Lamont may prove to be equally troublesome toward other moderates who have strayed from the strictures of The Huey Long contingent of the Democrat Party.
The struggle in Connecticut is not between Democrats and Republicans. Apart from the governorship, Republicans own little political real estate. Connecticut governors with Republican pedigrees – including Weicker and Rowland – have simply given up the ideological struggle to Democrats, which is why the state budget has more than doubled within the space of two governors. The battle is being waged between progressives, supported by extra-party instruments such as DailyKos -- financed by billionaire sugar daddies like George Soros -- and moderate Democrat incumbents and Republicans whose support systems have been eroded by anti-party reforms urged by those who do not believe that political parties should be partisan.