Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee Changes Parties, Will Run As Democrat

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee is changing parties, deciding to run for re-election as a Democrat.

Chafee, who has been registered as an Independent, has been publicly considering a party switch for some time. Two years ago, when talking about running for re-election, he signaled an openness to doing so as a Democrat.

Lincoln Chafee had been a Republican Senator from Rhode Island between 1999 and 2007 when he lost re-election to Sheldon Whitehouse. Even though he caucused with Republicans, Chafee often voted with Democrats and ranked as the most liberal Republican in the Senate.

He was one of only a handful of Senators — Democratic or otherwise — to vote against the Iraq War in 2003. He also endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012.

Chafee then ran for the governor’s office as an independent in 2010, winning the race.

As governor, Chafee has also endorsed liberal measures. He has been supportive of a bill to allow gay marriage, one that won the approval of the state legislature.

“This is a historic piece of legislation, one that literally has been in the works for more than 20 years,” said Senator Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) said of the gay marriage bill. “This is something that undoes centuries of discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.”

The party change will likely mean Lincoln Chafee faces competition for the Democratic line in his next run at the governor’s office. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras have also reportedly considered running.

Polls suggest the race could be an uphill battle for Chafee. His approval ratings are low, pegged at 33 percent and 26 percent in separate polls. A January poll from the Democratic Public Policy Polling found that in a race for the Democratic nomination, Chafee would trail Raimondo by 13 percentage points and Taveras by 3 percentage points.

Political experts think Lincoln Chafee’s party change could ultimately help Democrats retain control of the governor’s office. Rather than a three-way race that could have split Democratic voters and led to a Republican victory, Chafee’s switch will now lead to a two-candidate race.