Moderate Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who has bucked President Bush on tax cuts and the war in Iraq, defeated a conservative challenger Tuesday in a contest crucial to the larger fight for control of Congress.
With 72% of precincts reporting, Mr. Chafee was declared the winner with 25,728 votes, or 55%, to Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey's 20,750 votes, or 45%.
The last big day of primaries before the November elections also brought intriguing Democratic contests for Senate in Maryland and a House seat in Minnesota. In all, nine states and the District of Columbia voted, with the other states including Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
In Rhode Island, the importance of holding onto a GOP Senate seat brought Laura Bush and the GOP establishment to campaign around Mr. Chafee — even though he was the only Republican to vote against the resolution to use force against Iraq and he opposed the president's tax cuts. Mr. Chafee did not even vote for Bush in 2004 — instead writing in his father, George H.W. Bush.
Polls show Mr. Chafee will still face a tough contest against Democratic nominee Sheldon Whitehouse, a former attorney general. But if Mr. Chafee had lost, polls showed Mr. Whitehouse was almost assured a victory. Democrats are hopeful they can gain the six seats needed to win control in the Senate.
Mr. Chafee, 53, was appointed to the Senate in 1999 after his father, Senator John Chafee, died in office. He won election the following year. Like his father, Mr. Chafee is an economic conservative and social moderate — a classic New England Republican whose more liberal views have drawn support from unaffiliated voters and some Democrats.
[In a closely watched Democratic primary in Minnesota, a candidate with ties to the Nation of Islam and to a gang leader, Keith Ellison, was leading with 45% of the vote, with 64% of precincts reporting.] If Ellison wins, he would become Congress's first Muslim member.
In Vermont, Rep. Bernie Sanders won the Democratic nomination for Senate. Mr. Sanders, who plans to run as an independent, aims to win the seat of retiring Senator James Jeffords, the Senate's lone independent. Three Republicans sought the GOP nomination, with businessman Richard Tarrant leading in early returns.