Laffey, Steve 1962-

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Laffey, Steve 1962-


Born 1962; married; wife's name Kelly; children: six. Education: Attended Bowdoin College and Harvard Business School.


Home—Cranston, RI. E-mail—[email protected]


Businessperson, mayor, and writer. Morgan Keegan (investment banking firm), TN, president and chief operating officer; mayor of Cranston, RI, 2002-06; ran for Republican nomination for U.S. senator in 2006.


Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign), Sentinel (New York, NY), 2007.


Steve Laffey grew up in a working-class family in Cranston, Rhode Island, and went on to become president and chief operating officer of Morgan Keegan, a large investment banking firm headquartered in Tennessee with 2,000 employees and 500 million dollars in revenue. When the firm was sold in 2001, Laffey returned to Cranston and decided to run for mayor. As the Republican mayor of Cranston, Laffey earned a reputation for taking on special interests and for turning around a city in financial crisis. When Laffey took office, Cranston had the lowest bond rating in the United States and the largest cumulative deficit in Rhode Island history. During his term, Laffey turned the bond rating around, raising it eight notches to investment grade, and funded the pension system. He also produced the largest cumulative surplus in Rhode Island history.

During his second term in office—he was reelected by an overwhelming margin in 2004—Laffey decided to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. senate race in 2006. He went up against incumbent Lincoln Chafee and soon found himself fighting Republican power elites who, despite Chafee's liberal stance on many issues, worked to prevent Laffey from winning the nomination. Laffey tells his story of the battle, and of a Republican Party gone wrong, in his book Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign).

"It's a fun book," Laffey told David Weigel in an interview for Reason magazine. "I could have written the book at the 40,000 foot level, at the academic level. … I knew someone would do that, but I didn't know it would be Alan Greenspan, a week after me, from the same publisher! ‘Republicans put power over principle and they deserved to lose.’ That's a direct quote from his book, and he's right. But I wanted to write a book from the crop-duster level."

In his book—which Inside Politics Web site contributor Darrell M. West called "smart, energetic, and hard-hitting"—Laffey recounts his battle for the nomination as being indicative of everything that was wrong with the GOP ("Grand Old Party") in 2006. Laffey also discusses what he believes the Republican Party needs to do to recover in the future.

Writing in the book's introduction, Laffey outlines his view of what happened to the Republican Party once it gained power in the mid 1990s. "The Reagan Republicans who came into office in 1994 on a wave of small-government adrenaline had become puppets of the special interests," Laffey writes, adding that "corruption exploded." Laffey went on to write in his introduction: "This book is filled with many funny stories, but the message of this book isn't funny at all. There is nothing funny about millions of disappointed Republicans. There is nothing funny about hardworking taxpayers disgusted with their elected officials."

Laffey also describes in the introduction his life growing up in Cranston and compares his background to Chafee's, noting: "Unlike my opponent, Senator Lincoln Chafee, I had nothing handed to me simply because of my last name. The Chafees were one of the first five families in Rhode Island; mine was one of the last to get off the boat. My father wasn't a U.S. senator or a governor, but a blue-collar worker who sometimes worked two jobs to keep us fed and clothed."

Laffey goes on in his book to reveal the inside story of the race and names the powerful people who, according to the author, felt so threatened that they first tried to bully him to keep him from running and then resorted to lies and threats. The Republican insiders then went on to give all of their support and millions of dollars to Chafee. In his book, Laffey remarks on the many Republicans' efforts to slander him to the press, which, writes Laffey, meant they were breaking late President Ronald Regan's eleventh commandment of one Republican never speaking badly of another Republican. Laffey writes that many conservative activists throughout the country were outraged at how Laffey was being treated and showed their support of him with thousands of e-mails, phone calls, and small donations.

Although Laffey ultimately lost to Chafee, the incumbent Republican Senator went on to lose his seat to his rival, Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat. Laffey ends the book with a chapter titled "A Prescription for the Future," in which he outlines how the Republican Party should and can return to the ideals set forth by one of Laffey's heroes, President Reagan. In Laffey's eyes, the true conservative viewpoint of Republicans must remain focused on tax cuts, reducing tariffs, simplifying the tax code, and eliminating nondefense discretionary spending.

Referring to Primary Mistake as "passionate," a Publishers Weekly contributor went on to note in the same review: "The text alternates between colorful anecdotes about the campaign and vitriolic attacks on his adversaries." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted: "Laffey is forceful and avuncular, lacing his firm opinions with gotta-laugh stories from the campaign."



Laffey, Steve, Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign), Sentinel (New York, NY), 2007.


American Spectator, October 1, 2007, James W. Antle III, "Chafee at the Bit," review of Primary Mistake, p. 67.

Campaigns & Elections, October, 2007, "Rhode Island," p. 24.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Primary Mistake.

Publishers Weekly, July 30, 2007, review of Primary Mistake, p. 72.

Reason, September 24, 2007, David Weigel, "Laffey's Last Laugh."

Time, August 28, 2006, Joe Klein, "Running against the Big Shots," p. 25.

USA Today, August 25, 2006, Richard Wolf, "Cry to Cut Spending Grows Louder," p. 6; September 11, 2006, Susan Page, "R.I. Race a Tussle for Senate's Most Liberal Republican," p. 02.

Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2006, Kimberley A. Strassel, "Chafee vs. Laffey," p. 8; August 18, 2006, Jeanne Cummings, "Reliance on Base Roils a Republican Race; in Rhode Island, Moderate Chafee Faces Primary Challenge from Conservative Laffey," p. 4.


Inside Politics, (May 16, 2008), Darrell M. West, review of Primary Mistake.

Phoenix, (May 31, 2007), Ian Donnis, "What's Next for Steve Laffey?"

Steve Laffey Home Page, (May 16, 2008).

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Laffey, Steve 1962-

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