Meet Steve Laffey, the longest of long-shot candidates

The former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, is looking for a comeback.

July 27, 2023, 5:08 AM

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Steve Laffey, 61, was one of the first Republicans to declare his candidacy for the 2024 election -- but you've probably never heard of him.

He currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his three youngest children (there are six in total), his wife, Kelly Laffey, and their two cats and two dogs. They live on a small ranch or "farmette" equipped with an array of livestock (mainly for shows) and a hay field.

His children range from the ages of 15-34 are all, in no exaggeration, exceptional. Each of them with a myriad of trophies, from public speaking to poultry showmanship, lining the walls of their home and barn. Many of them began college while they were still in their teens.

"It's best to keep them busy," Kelly said to ABC News during a recent interview.

His presidential campaign is a family-run enterprise. His wife and children often go on the road with him and help manage his social media accounts. It's a small operation, but they say they're "grateful" for the chance to do it together.

The former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, has yet to place on a national poll and, according to his FEC filing, he has raised just $18,589.04 with $106,484.95 cash-on-hand at the end of the second quarter and is nowhere near the 40,000 unique donors required by the Republican National Convention to make it to the debate stage in Milwaukee in August. This puts him at the very bottom of the Republican candidate pack – Will Hurd, who has the second least, raised $273,512 and has $245,118 cash-on-hand.

These numbers mean, short of a miracle, the businessman turned politician will not qualify for the debate stage.

"It's of the interest of the National Republican Party again, who are friends with Donald Trump to keep it as small as possible. It's not of interest to ever have me take off," Laffey told ABC News.

Laffey has a lot to say about Trump. He frequently blasts the former president on social media, claiming Trump has "destroyed" the Republican party. When asked by ABC News what it means to be a Republican today, he was critical.

"It means almost nothing. Today ... there's a race going on where a man has been [found liable] of sexual assault."

He said he doesn't fit in with Republicans anymore.

"I stand for compassion, for the poor, and getting people out of poverty, and mostly enlarging the middle class," Laffey said.

In this March 17, 2023, file photo, Republican 2024 presidential hopeful Steve Laffey arrives for an interview at a local TV station in Cranston, Rhode Island.
Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Like most politicians, Laffey has a lot to say about everything. It's a stark contrast to the boy from a working-class family in Cranston who rarely spoke at home. His childhood was marred by tragedy and "dysfunction," he said. One of his brothers died at a young age from AIDS; a sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized before she later died; another brother, also schizophrenic, was institutionalized. At home he lived in fear, he said.

"All I really knew at the age of 12, was I didn't want that," said Laffey.

He managed to pave a better life for himself, becoming the first in his family to attend college and ultimately becoming the president of an investment banking firm in Tennessee. So it was a shock to everyone, when he decided to quit his job to run for mayor in his small hometown of Cranston.

"I just think this is my way of giving back. I can fix the city, and we did," said Laffey, who served as mayor from 2003 to 2007.

But it depends on who you ask. William Lynch, who at the time of Laffey's mayorship was the head of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, says Laffey is "a legend in his own mind." Laffey says he fixed the city's financial woes, but he was often criticized for being too confrontational and harsh to city workers. He went after several public service unions to cut costs for the city.

"His idea of fixing Cranston was to pick on some part-time retirees who provided a service as crossing guards to kids going to school and that fixed Cranston. It's ridiculous," Lynch told ABC News.

But Laffey stands by his tenure and says he prevented Cranston from undergoing a major financial crisis like the city of Detroit.

"I made sure that my city didn't become Detroit. And even 20 years later, it's not Detroit."

In this March 17, 2023, file hoto, Republican 2024 presidential hopeful Steve Laffey poses for a photo at the council chambers in Cranston, Rhode Island.
Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

He went on to run for United States Senate in 2006 and for the Republican nomination for Colorado's 4th congressional district in 2014. He lost both elections and when personal tragedy struck his life, it prevented him from continuing on with his political aspirations.

The day after one daughter, Audrey, took her last medication for Jeavons Syndrome -- an epileptic syndrome, another daughter, Sarah Grace, began displaying symptoms of what would be stage-four brain cancer, a neuroblastoma. The family went back and forth between Philadelphia for hospital visits, sold their horses and began homeschooling their three youngest, Audrey, Jessica, and Steven.

So why after all these years would Laffey decide to hop back into the political sphere? He told ABC News it's his last shot.

"I don't know why so many people are so comfortable watching from the side," he said. "You know, if I told you I didn't have an ego, I'd be lying. I'm supposed to be the governor, I'm supposed to be the president, I'm supposed to do something important for people."

Although his political ambitions are his primary focus these days, his family is still front and center. Laffey is most proud of breaking what he calls his "family's cycle."

He's in it to win it, but he realizes his candidacy is a long-shot and he'll settle for moving the needle. "If I can move the country in the right direction, that's still a victory."

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