A new poll out from Rhode Island College shows that conservative challenger Steve Laffey is crushing incumbent GOP Senator Lincoln Chaffee by 17 points -- 51%-34%. Fifteen percent are undecided -- that is, less are undecided than the point spread. Chafee really is on course to lose this thing.
I have no idea if this is a possibility under Rhode Island law. (Calling Dr. Bloor....) But what if Chafee loses and pulls a Lieberman? From the opposite coast, my sense is he is nowhere near as venal as Joementum is, but play along for a minute, becaus it raises a bucnh of interesting questions. What does it do to this race? My guess is Whitehouse still wins going away. What does it do to the Republican Party? That could get interesting -- they must like Laffey better on the issues, but (a) they have the same pro-incumbent bias as the Democrats, and (b) they obviously know that Laffey doesn't have a prayer in such a blue state. One possibility is that it effectively gives Libby Dole a reason to turn off the tap for RI entirely and send her love elsewhere.
But the really interesting question is about the effect on the whole two-party system. The netroots movement is in part a challenge to the machine aspect of party politics. So, obviously, was Ned Lamont's campaign. Now Joe Lieberman is challenging The System. If Chafee does the same, I think it will be safe to conclude that the whole structure is under attack, and that at least some in Washington will feel the need to put down their copies of My Pet Goat.
And what if Chafee and Lieberman join forces and try to create their own "centrist" party? And what if it works for both of them? If Chafee goes that way, it probably helps Lieberman significantly. I don't know if teaming with Lieberman does Chafee any good, though.
I'm not smart enough to see that many moves down the chessboard. But the possibilities are both intriguing and frightening.
Oh, and the whole Lieberman approach seems to have legs in other arenas as well.