May 30, 2013

Rhode Island Gov. Chafee poised to join Democrats

David Klepper / The Associated Press

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Following Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee's formal party switch Democrats will hold the governorships of 20 states, compared with 30 states with GOP governors.


"He has been very progressive in those ways and I think he'll find a lot of people embracing him," Kennedy said, adding, "It's not like he's becoming a Democrat for political expediency alone. He's been consistent."

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Rhode Island nearly four to one, although almost half of voters aren't affiliated with any party.

Brown University political science Prof. Wendy Schiller said changing parties is a risky move for the governor, setting up a matchup with two of the state's most popular politicians with built-in bases of support.

Taveras is Hispanic and is likely to compete with Chafee for the support of organized labor. Raimondo could win over more conservative Democrats and tussle with Chafee for the party's female voters.

"I still do not see the significant gain for Chafee in switching parties," Schiller said. "Raimondo and Taveras represent the future of the Democratic Party. They span a wide spectrum of Democratic voters. I think he'd really benefit if those two really beat each other up."

Although Rhode Island is heavily Democratic, it has not had a Democratic governor for years. Chafee will become the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1995.

Following Chafee's formal party switch Democrats will hold the governorships of 20 states, compared with 30 states with GOP governors.

Republican Governors Association Executive Director Phil Cox dismissed Chafee's move as a calculated act to shore up his re-election chances. Allan Fung, the Republican mayor of Cranston, who is considering a run for governor, declined to discuss the politics of the governor's move, and predicted a hard-fought Democratic primary.

"Most likely it's going to be a slugfest, and I'm not sure how that's going to play out," he said.

Chafee is son of the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee, a former governor whose name was synonymous with the Republican Party in Rhode Island for decades. When John Chafee died in office in 1999, Lincoln Chafee was appointed to fill his seat, and then won re-election to the post the following year. In the Senate, he voted to the left of many Democrats, opposing the war in Iraq, for example. But he stuck it out as a Republican through his 2006 re-election campaign, which he lost to Sheldon Whitehouse.

He switched parties the following year and made a political comeback in 2010, winning a four-way race for governor with 36 percent of the vote.

As governor, Chafee has struggled with poor approval ratings and some of his policy proposals have fizzled in the face of opposition in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, such as an early plan to expand the sales tax.

Chafee is a reluctant fundraiser, and he has often depended on personal wealth to fund his campaigns. He told the AP in December that he was considering joining the Democrats to help his chances of winning a second term.

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