A poll commissioned by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's campaign shows Whitehouse with a 58-point lead over potential rival Lincoln Chafee among likely primary voters, according to a polling memo obtained by Rhode Island Public Radio.
If Chafee pursues a primary challenge against Whitehouse, "the poll finds that Whitehouse would start such a race with an enormous advantage," according to a memo by Anzalone Liszt Grove dated May 16. "The poll finds Whitehouse leading Chafee by a 58-point margin among likely Democratic primary voters, with 72% supporting Whitehouse and just 14% supporting Chafee, with 14% undecided."
Whitehouse's campaign manager, Joe Caiazzo, declined to release the full poll commissioned by the senator's campaign. Caiazzo declined comment on the findings described in the memo after being contacted by RIPR.
Chafee told RIPR he is conducting his own poll, and that the results (expected in a few weeks) will determine whether he moves ahead with a primary challenge against Whitehouse.
"All I know is I've been in 13 elections," Chafee said. "I've won 11 of them. I usually start out behind and always get outspent. So we'll see going forward how my poll turns out."
Chafee, a Republican, still had a high personal approval rating when lost his Senate seat to Whitehouse in 2006, an election year marked by the unpopularity of President George W. Bush in Rhode Island. Chafee won election as governor as an independent in 2010. Faced with low approval ratings, he decided against seeking re-election in 2014.
The Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat flirted with running for governor this year. Chafee surprised political observers by then ruling that out and saying a few days later he was 90 percent committed to pursuing a primary challenge against Whitehouse.
In the time since, Chafee said he was taking more time to consider his next move, although he's also made a series of tweets about foreign policy after a long absence from the social medium.
According to the Anzalone Liszt Grove memo, the firm's poll was conducted May 7-14 and included interviews with approximately 902 likely 2018 voters in Rhode Island, including 801 likely 2018 general election voters and an oversample of 101 likely Democratic primary voters. The company said the margin of error is 3.5 percentage points for the general election sample and 5.5 percentage points for the primary election sample. Forty-five percent of the interviews were done via cell phone.
The memo asserts that "Whitehouse's advantage extends across every demographic group and every region of the state," while "Chafee's favorability rating is underwater by double digits with Democratic primary voters (32% favorable vs. 46% unfavorable), while Whitehouse is viewed favorably with them by a 69-point margin (79% favorable vs. 10% unfavorable.)"
Anzalone Liszt Grove said its poll shows Whitehouse with "a strong job rating among both general election and likely Democratic primary. The company said its findings show that 81 percent of Democratic primary voters approve of the senator's job performance.
Two Republicans, Robert Flanders and Robert Nardolillo, are competing for the chance to take on Whitehouse.