Is Chafee the GOP's Lieberman?

In an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., predicted he will withstand an intraparty primary challenge from Republican Mayor Steve Laffey in one of the key races to his party's chances of holding onto control of the Senate.

"This is going to be a close race," Chafee told Stephanopoulos, who traveled to Rhode Island as a part of "This Week's" on-the-trail series of interviews leading up to the 2006 midterm elections and 2008 presidential race.

Chafee's father, the late Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., served four terms in the Senate before announcing his retirement in 1999. Chafee's son announced his intention to run for the seat but was appointed to the post after his father's sudden death of congestive heart failure later that same year.

The junior Chafee, a former Republican mayor, was elected in his own right in 2000 and would face his first Senate re-election in November -- if he wins the Republican primary.

Steve Laffey, the one-term mayor of Cranston, R.I., and a successful investment banker, has run a tough campaign against Chafee despite strong support for the sitting senator among national Republican Party leaders.

Also appearing exclusively on "This Week", Laffey told ABC News, "The last thing that Karl Rove and his buddies want down in Washington is a real reformer like me, someone who shakes things up, who has the ideas and the ability to implement real solutions."

The latest independent poll done by Rhode Island College surveyed a small sample size of only 363 registered voters, and showed Laffey defeating Chafee in the Sept. 12 primary by a 51-to-34-percent margin, a 17 percentage point gap. Their previous poll, conducted in June, found the race nearly even, suggesting some movement in Laffey's direction.

Troubling to Republicans nationally, however, is that polls consistently show Chafee fares far better than Laffey in the general election against the leading Democratic candidate, Sheldon Whitehouse.

Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told ABC News' Teddy Davis point blank, "If Laffey wins the primary, we lose the seat. All polling has reflected that. It's just the reality."

And, as opposed to incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who is pursuing his seat as an independent after losing his bid for reelection in Connecticut's Democratic primary to newcomer Ned Lamont, Chafee has ruled out an independent run.

"That's off the board," Chafee said. "Technically, in Rhode Island, I cannot do it. But even if I could, I wouldn't."

So Sept. 12 could be the final word on Chafee.

Chafee has broken with his party on numerous issues, including the president's tax cuts, prescription drugs, the Iraq war, stem cells and gay marriage, and labels himself a "traditional Republican." He acknowledges, however, that "it's much more conservative" in Congress these days.

Still, he believes, "I'm fighting from within, speaking up in or caucuses, making my voice heard. I think I've been vindicated on a number of votes. The Iraq war is, I think most people would say, a mistake, especially in the premise that there were weapons of mass destruction. There weren't."

In the 2004 presidential election, Chafee even voted against President George W. Bush, instead writing in the name of Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush.

"I've voted Republican my whole life," Chafee told ABC News.

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