The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

12 August 2006

Steve Laffey, Lincoln Chafee, Talk Radio, Rhode Island


Why Hosting And Running For Office Don't Mix

When seeking elective office, is it wise to first look to talk radio hosting as a way to ultimately get there?

The answer, of course, is generally a big NO. That's because the level of caution needed on the campaign trail mixes with the outspokenness required for success in talk radio like oil and water. On the air, you're bound to say things that could easily backfire in a political setting.

Yet, your Radio Equalizer is often surprised by the number of budding politicians who see hosting talk shows as the ticket to campaign success.

Case in point: Stephen Laffey, mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island. Laffey is a conservative Republican who is in the middle of a white- hot GOP primary battle against liberal US Senator Lincoln Chafee. Even if it hasn't yet attracted quite as much publicity, this nasty fight is every bit as interesting as the ongoing Lieberman - Lamont battle in neighboring Connecticut.

For years, Chafee's liberal and moderate positions on various issues have greatly irritated conservative Republican activists across the nation. As a result, they've welcomed Laffey's candidacy, even if the national party has remained loyal to Senator Chafee.

While Laffey is indeed a viable candidate with a successful political track record, he's made one terrible mistake: insisting on hosting talk shows on Providence's WPRO-AM in 2005. At the time, he wasn't a declared candidate, but was raising money and making it very clear he'd soon be taking on Chafee.

As a result, there were complaints of unfairness regarding his free airtime and an official objection filed with Rhode Island's Board Of Elections. After the board ruled that Laffey's show represented an in- kind political contribution by WPRO's owner, he was forced off the air.

In retrospect, the board might actually have been doing Laffey a favor.

Certainly, the radio stint likely did wonders for boosting his name recognition beyond Cranston, but it also gave both Republican and Democrat opponents a key advantage: hours of off- the- cuff remarks they could put on tape and use against him during this year's contest.

And sure enough, that's exactly what they've begun to do: in a new, anti-Laffey attack ad put out by the Chafee campaign, his past airtime is already coming back to haunt him. And Laffey's outspoken nature, whether on the air or during public meetings, certainly isn't helping matters much.

From the Boston Globe:

Sen. Lincoln Chafee launched a new ad Friday criticizing his primary opponent, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, as unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate. Chafee has been trying to make character a central issue in a hard-fought race leading to the Sept. 12 Republican primary.

TITLE: "Bully"

CREATOR: Chris Mottola Consulting Inc.

LENGTH: 30 seconds

AIRING: On Rhode Island broadcast television stations

SCRIPT: Announcer: "Do you want Steve Laffey speaking for you in the U.S. Senate? As mayor, he taunted firefighters who opposed his policies. When a woman criticized Laffey's tax increases, he mocked her, saying he'd foreclose on her home if she didn't pay up. And on radio, Laffey said, luckily seniors who didn't support his campaign were 'older and dying.'" Laffey: 'Were older and dying." Announcer: "Steve Laffey. The wrong voice for Rhode Island in the Senate." Chafee: "I'm Lincoln Chafee and I approved this message."

KEY IMAGES: The ad opens with an image of a radio microphone. Then it cuts to a video clip of Laffey being held back by a police officer as he confronts Cranston firefighters at a city council meeting. The ad shows a tax bill and a clip of Laffey waving his hand in a dismissive gesture while speaking at a podium. Then the ad moves to video of Laffey in glasses and a dark suit next to the words 'Luckily, those people are older and they're dying.' The ad cuts back to the microphone with text that says, 'Steve Laffey. The wrong voice for Rhode Island in the Senate.' The last image is of Chafee at a Rhode Island beach.

Assuming that both Chafee and Whitehouse have rolled tape on Laffey's other on-air and public appearances, there's no telling what they'll come up with next, especially if "creative" editing techniques are used.

For the national GOP, one major issue with Laffey is electability. There's also a strong Democrat challenger in the race, former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. So far, polls show a Chafee - Whitehouse matchup to be very close, while Laffey doesn't fare nearly as well against the Dem.

Were Laffey to win the primary, he would have to overcome a fairly significant support deficit going into the general election. When it already has a sitting Republican senator representing Rhode Island, that represents a risk the GOP clearly isn't willing to take.

For much more on this highly compelling election year battle, see the National Review's Sixers blog, where the latest developments are analyzed daily. Patrick Casey has been following the contest closely and sees strength in the Laffey campaign.

For other aspiring candidates out there, the lesson is clear: if you want to win, it's okay to debate an opponent, or appear as a guest on a program, where the environment is slightly more controlled.

Because talk radio is simply too unscripted to be safe for your campaign, however, it's wise to stay out of the host's chair.

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Top right Laffey image: Kris Craig - Providence Journal, Chafee- Laffey debate: Stephan Savoia - Associated Press


  • Good objective post Maloney - not filled with the usual bias.

    Got to love the hypocritical right. They are in the process of purging one of their own. What did Lincoln Chafee do exactly that pissed them off? Straddled the fence once to often? I serioulsy doubt it was anything as significant as the war issue.

    Personally, I think Republicans should throw their support behind Laffey. He is more in the mold of Tom Delay who the Republicans revere. Don't let the small fact he doesn't stand a chance against the Democrat affect your judgement.

    By Blogger Elmonica, at 12 August, 2006 16:16  


    By Blogger Chip Peterson, at 12 August, 2006 23:56  

  • Any comment on AZ congressman JD Hayworth sitting in as host for Laura Ingraham two days last week?

    By Blogger Ezsuds81, at 13 August, 2006 05:03  

  • I agree that Talk-Show hosts have a difficult time running for office as they all have hundreds of hours of talk from which to extract quotes (or out of context misquotes).

    This problem could certainly explain Franken's silence on the British liquid bomb situation. It's a subject on which he won't want to leave a trail of quotes.

    It's impossible to say anything that even hints of support for the terrorists, and it'll be hard to say anything anti-terrorist that won't conflict with an anti-war stance later on.

    Silence on such subjects is therefore best for his political stance, but makes for boring radio. However, since ratings are not a concern for the privately-funded AAR, Franken is free to be silent without affecting his (generous) income. Ratings are irrelevant for AAR.

    By Blogger Lokki, at 13 August, 2006 13:10  

  • I assure you Whitehouse has opposition and poses little favorable alternative to Chafee.

    It's not adequate to run as an anti-GOP candidate.

    By Blogger Carl Sheeler For Senate, at 13 August, 2006 14:44  

  • Laffey, Chafee, dump them both.

    Get the snakes off the plane.

    By Blogger No Blood for Hubris, at 27 August, 2006 09:35  

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