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Chafee’s big money question

July 23, 2010

The Rasmussen survey today confirms expectations of a close gubernatorial contest between independent Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Frank Caprio. So one of the biggest questions for the Chafee campaign is this: to what extent will he draw on his considerable family wealth to fuel the forthcoming war of TV commercials with the hard-charging Caprio?

I looked at this question as part of a Chafee profile set to air Monday during WRNI’s Morning Edition. So here’s an early glimpse at how Chafee responded when asked if he’ll kick in some big bucks when push comes to shove:

Chafee: I’m not going to lose this campaign for lack of money.

Donnis: So you are willing to draw on your personal wealth if you need to?

Chafee: I’ll work hard to fundraise — that’s my goal, to be competitive, as I always have been, in any of my 12 political races, city council, mayor, US Senate.

In his losing 2006 Senate race with Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, Chafee contributed more than $1 million — and was criticized for not tapping personal wealth to a greater extent. A related lull in post-primary advertising was seen as hurtful to Chafee’s campaign.

This time around, Caprio has set the pace in raising money. But Chafee campaign manager J.R. Pagliarini downplays this, telling me:

We don’t feel money is going to decide the election. History has proven time and time again, it’s not the person who has the most money — it’s the person who has the most votes, that wins the election. You could talk to [former Providence] mayor [Joseph] Paolino; in 1990 — 20 years ago — he speent $4 million in the [gubernatorial] primary and lost. Governor [Bruce] Sundlun spent millions of his own money in 1986 and 1988 and lost. The list goes on and on.

Perhaps so, but relative parity in fundraising could be significant in a close race, in which a somewhat low percentage of support could be decisive.

Bob Walsh of NEARI told me this earlier this week:

On an equally funded basis, my expectation would actually be that Linc Chafee would be that rarest of rarities — an independent becoming governor.

Whether that equally funded basis comes about remains to be seen. But there’s little doubt that Chafee and especially his wife, Stephanie, have the financial wherewithal to dig deep. Stephanie (Danforth) Chafee, already prosperous, made a boatload of dough when Belo bought the ProJo in 1997.

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