At the risk of beating a dead horse, let me return to this Chafee question one more time, from a slightly different angle. Yes, it will bore you.

There are four possible outcomes of the 2006 Senate elections, Chafee-wise:

  1. The Democrats regain the majority; Chafee loses.
  2. The Democrats regain the majority; Chafee wins.
  3. The Republicans retain the majority; Chafee wins.
  4. The Republicans retain the majority; Chafee loses.

From the perspective of the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters — or rather, from the perspective of a strong, proactive environmental agenda — these are listed from most desirable to least desirable. A few things to say about this.

Clearly the worst possible outcome is No. 4. Whatever his transgressions on judges, Chafee has served as a firebreak to some of Bush’s crazier environmental gambits, thanks to his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. If Chafee lost, that seat would be lost as well. So 4 must be avoided.

Of the remaining three options, two involve Chafee winning. The one that doesn’t, best case scenario No. 1, relies on the Dems retaking the majority. The current Republican crackup is severe, but there are substantial structural factors favoring incumbents. Most of what I’ve read, and my own assessment of the situation, points to Democratic gains, but not a Democratic majority.

Now, some folks might say, "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead, don’t accept anything but total victory." And that strikes me as an appropriate stance for groups whose purpose it is to elect Dems. But that is not the purpose of SC and LCV; their purpose is to protect a green agenda in a political environment that is unfriendly at best. From their strategic perspective, they need to predict — not hope, not wish — which is likely to be the majority party in the Senate in 2006, and act accordingly. If they judge that Republicans are likely to retain the majority, then No. 3 is the best outcome.

Furthermore, the difference between No. 1 and No. 2 is not substantial, from a green perspective.

In short, the low-risk option for SC and LCV is to endorse Chafee. Their nightmare is a Republican majority without Chafee. If there’s a Dem majority, well hell, it’s fine with or without Chafee.

(Now, the scenario I’ve skipped over, obviously, the the one wherein the endorsement causes Chafee to win, and Chafee winning tips the balance and causes the R’s to retain the majority. Frankly, that just doesn’t strike me as likely. But if someone more immersed in wonk than I wanted to argue that Chafee’s seat really is the pivotal seat that will decide the majority, I could be persuaded.)