R.I. governor switches to Democratic Party

Source: Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 3, 2013

More than six years after he departed the Republican Party to become an independent, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee made another shift today, registering as a Democrat.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office told The Providence Journal that Chafee’s decision came as “a recognition that the Democratic Party and he are aligned on policies and principles.”

But there are political implications to Chafee’s move.

The governor, a former senator who lost a re-election bid as a Republican in 2006, faces another tough re-election fight in 2014, including the potential now for a three-way Democratic primary. Among his possible Democratic challengers are Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, both of whom had been gearing up to run.

A February poll conducted by Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy showed Chafee with lower public approval ratings than either of his would-be challengers.

Among the 593 voters included in the poll, 26 percent rated Chafee’s performance as “good or excellent,” while Taveras received 64 percent and Raimondo received 56 percent. The survey had a 4-point margin of error.

But Chafee’s decision prompted praise from national Democrats yesterday, including President Obama. Chafee endorsed Obama in his 2012 re-election bid and spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

“I’m delighted to hear that Governor Chafee is joining the Democratic Party,” Obama said. “For nearly 30 years, Linc Chafee has served his beloved Rhode Island as an independent thinker and leader who’s unafraid to reach across party lines to get things done. 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.”

It is not clear, however, whether Obama’s praise is enough to chase Taveras or Raimondo from the gubernatorial race. There is some speculation that Chafee will try to persuade Taveras to run for lieutenant governor. Possible candidates on the Republican side include Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and John Robataille, the 2010 GOP nominee who finished 2 points behind Chafee.

Asked today what his father, the late Sen. John Chafee (R), would think of his party switch, the governor, according to a Providence Journal account, replied, “He’d be right here, patting me on the back.”