WEST PALM BEACH, FL, May 29, 2013 — President Obama today embraced Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who will officially switch his party affiliation from Independent to Democrat tomorrow. Obama praised long-time supporter Chafee, calling him, “an independent thinker and leader who’s unafraid to reach across party lines to get things done.”
Obama also stated, “I enjoyed working with Linc when he was a Republican in the United States Senate, and I look forward to continuing that collaboration on the issues that matter not just to the Democratic Party, but to every American,” Obama said. “I’m thrilled to welcome Linc to the party of Jefferson and Jackson, Roosevelt and Kennedy – and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead.”
After Chafee switches parties, there will be 30 Republican governors and 20 Democratic governors.
This is not the first party switch for Chafee. He is the son of John Chafee, the former Republican Senator from Rhode Island and Rhode Island Governor. The younger Chafee was appointed to a Senate seat in 1999 after his father’s death, and then re-elected to the seat as a Republican the following year.
Chafee lost his 2006 reelection bid, when he ran again as a Republican.
In 2007, Chafee changed his party affiliation to independent. As an independent, he won a tight three-way race for Rhode Island governor, winning with 36 percent of the vote.
Chafee has publicly discussed switching to the Democratic Party since 2011, but has only recently officially decided to act. According to his spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger, Chafee left the Republican ticket because of “the rightward shift” of the Republican Party.
Hunsinger further stated, “He understands and recognizes that his beliefs are aligned with that of the Democratic party … There is strength in numbers for fighting on behalf of the Rhode Island taxpayer against monied interests and the very powerful.”
Despite his mult-affiliation past, Chafee has Democratic credentials. He was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the Iraq War, for example, and often voted with the Democratic Party as a Senator. In 2008 and 2012, Chafee campaigned for Obama, who returned the favor by withholding endorsement for the Democratic candidate running against Chafee for Governor.
Early this month, Chafee signed a bill legalizing gay marriage in Rhode Island.
Skeptics question Chafee’s party switch, however, suggesting it is more about winning reelection in 2014 than about ideology. As a Democrat, Chafee may hope to avoid another divisive, and very close, three-way race for Governor.
His decision comes after a February poll by Brown University that gave Chafee only a 26 percent approval rating. Other important Democratic politicians in the state, including Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo had much stronger support. Tavaras registered a 64 percent approval rating and Raimondo received 56 percent approval.
The Democratic polling firm Public Policy reported January poll results gave Chafee 22 percent of the vote, Raimondo 35 percent and Taveras 19 percent.
Both Tavaras and Raimondo are expected to run for Governor in 2014.
After the news leaked that Chafee is switching parties, Tavaras quipped, “I have been a Democrat and a Red Sox fan my whole life, and I don’t intend on changing either.”
The strong Democratic slate does increase chances that Rhode Island will remain in the hands of the party after the 2014 election, however. The Rhode Island Democratic Party carefully stated it will support whichever candidate wins the primary.
Assuming, of course, they are all still Democrats by then.
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