PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Despite less-than-stellar fund-raising in the last quarter, former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee says that his exploratory campaign' for governor is alive and well after a major cost-cutting move, and that he has poll results that show him with a credible shot of winning a three-way race.
To help quell rumors he is not long for the race, Chafee went so far as to make public the results of a telephone survey of 403 likely voters conducted for his campaign by Alpha Research Associates. The poll showed where he would place in a three-way race with newly emerged Republican candidate Rory Smith and either one of the leading Democratic contenders, "if the election were held today.''
Among the findings of the Oct. 26-29 poll:
* In a general election race between Chafee, Smith and Gen. Treasurer Frank Caprio, Chafee would draw 36 percent, Caprio 34 percent and Smith 8 percent, with a majority of those who chose no side saying they did not yet know.
* In a race between Chafee, Smith and Atty. Gen. Patrick C. Lynch, Chafee led the attorney general 37 percent to 24 percent, with Smith drawing 15 percent, and the balance undecided.
"To be honest,'' Chafee said, he was surprised at his apparent edge over the high-visibility Lynch, and believes the numbers mean "it is going to be a competitive race, no doubt about it.''
He also made this observation: when the Democratic nominee is Caprio -- instead of Lynch -- the "social conservatives abandon Smith and go to Caprio.''
He said he was also struck by the number -- 84 percent -- who said they were willing to give "a serious look'' at all candidates, even independents. People interviewed had the option of saying they would vote for whoever emerged as the Republican or Democratic nominee.
Caprio spokeswoman Margie O'Brien responded in an e-mail: "The Chafee-sponsored poll showing a former senator in a statistical dead heat with Frank Caprio speaks for itself.''
Lynch campaign manager Mike Mikus, meanwhile, said: "We are one year away from Election Day and, as with most elections at this point, a large number of voters are undecided, and many will ultimately change their mind over the course in time. Once the voters focus on the race, they will see that Patrick Lynch is the candidate who has fought tirelessly on their behalf for the last seven years and is best equipped to fix the economy and bring real change to Rhode Island."
The poll, of course, did not look at where Chafee or any other likely candidates would stand in an even more crowded race, featuring an as-yet-unknown Moderate Party candidate and other possible candidates, including former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, who was Chafee's '06 Republican nemesis in the U.S. Senate race. (Chafee won the primary, then lost the seat in the general election to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.)
But the Alpha poll found that no other issue comes close to "jobs/economy'' in the minds of voters, with an overwhelming number convinced the the state has veered seriously off track. It also test-marketed the campaign theme, "A new way forward.'' Chafee has been using it ever since.
From the poll and his campaign travels so far, Chafee said he has come to a conclusion: "They don't want to hear what I have done. ...They want to hear what I am going to do. I think that is going to be the campaign, and people know these decisions are not going to be easy. They do not want glossy pie in the sky.''
But he still trails Caprio and Lynch by wide margins in dollars in his campaign account, having added $120,210 in the three months that ended Sept. 30. That included a new $50,000 personal loan. Caprio netted $135,377 during the same period, and Lynch, $112,653. At the end of the quarter, Chafee had $200,122 left, Lynch, $562,167 and Caprio, $1.504 million.
To save money, Chafee said, his campaign coordinator -- former bank executive James DeRentis -- agreed at the end of October to shift over to unpaid fund-raising for him, leaving him with one paid campaign staffer, administrative aide Cara McAllister. Between July 1 and Sept. 30, the campaign paid DeRentis $23,000.
"Like any business, you've got to raise the money,'' Chafee said. "We've got to do better at fund-raising.''