Chafee chatter

Consider the mere possibility of this at your own risk, but there is some speculation that Senator Lincoln Chafee, who some think is mounting a late seat-saving charge in Rhode Island, might bid in victory bid adieu to the Republican Party – potentially giving the Democrats their 51st seat even if they fall short in tonight’s returns.

The idea of Chafee changing parties is not new and in some ways makes an awful lot of sense. He’s often called a moderate Republican, but he’s really a liberal – to the left of many Senate Democrats – and was the lone GOP vote against the Iraq war. He also publicly refused to vote for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 and, more recently, opposed the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito. Last week, he won the endorsement of Myrth York – a big-name Rhode Island Democrat who has thrice been her party’s gubernatorial nominee. Needless to say, if had switched parties a year or two ago, Chafee would probably have had a much easier path to re-election in blue state Rhode Island.

But the timing on this is off. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has poured millions of dollars into Little Rhody this year, fortifying Chafee first from a life-and-death challenge from the right in the GOP primary and now against his Democratic foe, Sheldon Whitehouse. For Chafee now to stick it to the Republican Party – which has cheerfully brooked every one of his apostasies so that he will vote to give them control of the Senate – would take the term ‘ingrate’ to a new level.

Still, if Chafee hangs on tonight and the chamber ends up split at 50/50, who knows what inducements Democrats might offer Chafee? Actually, the scenario feels a little like the spring of 2001, when Democrats flipped another very liberal New England Republican, Vermonter James Jeffords, to break a 50/50 tie.

(By the way – wouldn’t it have saved everyone considerable trouble if at this time last year Chafee and Joe Lieberman struck a deal to trade parties for one year?)