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Senate rivals bound by fathers, family history

Senate rivals bound by fathers, family history

One of the closest races for the U.S. Senate is being waged by two men whose fathers were lifelong friends.
Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is challenging Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee in a campaign crucial to the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.
The late Sen. John Chafee and Ambassador Charles Whitehouse were roommates at Yale University in the 1940s, the beginning of enduring ties between the two families.
"I'm not running for the U.S. Senate because I think Lincoln Chafee is a bad man," Whitehouse said.
Chafee said he respects Whitehouse as well, but he is ready for the tough campaign. "In this business," he said, "there's no second place, no silver medal."
Polls show the race to be close, with voters in this heavily Democratic state making a choice in November's midterm elections between a member of the state's ruling party and a Republican who often votes with Democrats.
Both candidates are scions of wealthy, blue-blood families with a history of public service.
The Chafees were one of the five families that ran Rhode Island's most prominent institutions and dominated its politics from the late 18th century until the 1930s.
Lincoln Chafee's family tree includes Sen. Henry Lippitt, who served from 1911 to 1917, and Harvard University's notable legal scholar, the late Zechariah Chaffee. (The family uses several spellings of the Chafee name). His father, John, served three terms as Rhode Island governor and more than 20 years in the U.S. Senate.
Chafee, 53, was elected to four terms as mayor of Warwick before declaring his candidacy for his father's seat in 1999. John Chafee died shortly after, and his son was appointed to replace him before winning election in 2000.
Whitehouse, 50, comes from a family dedicated to the foreign service. His father and grandfather were ambassadors, and his cousin Robert Blake is the ambassador to Sri Lanka.
John Chafee and Charles Whitehouse met at Yale University after they had served in the military in World War II.
Sheldon Whitehouse has fond memories of John Chafee coming to dinner. During his years as governor, Chafee would often arrive in a state police car with a driver who gave the Whitehouse children rides while Chafee chatted with their parents.
Years later, when John Chafee was secretary of the Navy under President Richard M. Nixon, he visited the Whitehouse family in Virginia by helicopter.
Whitehouse became friends with another of John Chafee's sons, Zechariah. Both worked in Rhode Island's U.S. attorney's office.
Lincoln Chafee and Whitehouse did not meet until 1992, when both got involved in politics. Chafee was elected mayor of Warwick and Whitehouse was named state director of business regulation.
They now see each other at the Wheeler School in Providence, where their 13-year-old sons are friends.
While Chafee has followed in his father's steps as a moderate Republican and environmentalist, Whitehouse, son of a nonpartisan diplomat, carved his own path as a Democrat.
"My father's politics did not influence mine," Whitehouse said. "In fact, we disagreed on a fair amount of stuff."
But Charles Whitehouse embraced environmentalism in retirement, and the two became much closer in their opinions, his son said.
Both Chafee and Whitehouse oppose the Iraq war, deficit spending, and President George W. Bush's tax cuts and warrantless wiretapping program. They favor abortion rights, gay marriage and a way for illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.
When they disagree, it is often about how to achieve a goal. For example, Whitehouse would require utility companies to produce a greater share of their power from renewable sources more quickly than Chafee.
Whitehouse said he believes that Chafee is "on the wrong side of history" in a Republican Party that is more conservative than in his father's time. A Democratic-controlled Senate would put the nation on a better path, Whitehouse said.
Chafee acknowledged that his father might be surprised to see him run against his college roommate's son.
"It's an only-in-Rhode Island kind of story," he said.


Updated : 2021-07-24 13:47 GMT+08:00