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Does Chafee Have a Path to Victory?

Lincoln Chafee's name recognition and Bush-bashing appeal should, in theory, put him in a strong position for the gubernatorial race. But can he put together a winning coalition?

Liberal blogger Matt Jerzyk writes of a left less-than-impressed with Chafee's performance at a gathering of progressive activists last night - and less-than-impressed, in general, with his candidacy.

And if Chafee fails to lock up this constituency, his road to victory gets quite a bit bumpier. There is, after all, significant competition for the centrist voters who would be his more natural constituency.

Treasurer and would-be gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio, who is leading the money chase on the Democratic side, has staked out a moderate-to-conservative position on fiscal matters. And his rival, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, is no lefty agitator, either.

Even the sole Republican to put his foot forward, businessman Rory Smith, seems a moderate in the early going - he is pro-choice, for instance.

But Jim DeRentis, Chafee's campaign manager, says there is a path to victory. Caprio, he suggests, has gone too far to the right - leaving the center exposed. Lynch's base, he insists, is hard-core Democrats. And Smith just won't catch on, he argues: the Republican looks too much like the current, unpopular governor - a businessman with the misguided notion that he can turn his business experience into effective civic leadership.

Is he right? Time will tell.

But it says here that Chafee can't count on racking up big margins on Caprio among centrists. The treasurer may be a bit conservative on fiscal matters. But he is hardly out of the Democratic mainstream. Chafee may have to make significant inroads with the left if he hopes to outflank Caprio. And he's got some work to do on that front.

A Lynch victory in the Democratic primary could be even more problematic. It would make appealing to the left more difficult and still present challenges in the middle.

Chafee's early fundraising troubles don't help matters, though DeRentis - while stopping short of saying that Chafee will pour his own money to the race - assures N4N that the well-to-do former Senator will be competitive in the gubernatorial race.

There's also a question of momentum. Ian Donnis, over at WRNI, sounds some skeptical notes about Chafee's campaign. And he's not the only one. Still, it's early.

Indeed, there's an argument to be made for keeping Linc's political identity a little less-than-defined while the rest of the filed takes shape. Charting a path to victory will depend, in large part, on identifying who Chafee's contenders will be in November 2010.

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