In this photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee talks with The Associated Press during an interview at his Statehouse office in Providence, RI.
Photo by Stephan Savoia/AP

Chafee brings a unique resume to presidential race

With so many people running for president in the 2016 cycle, we’ve already seen some battle lines drawn based on qualifications: some of the Republican governors, for example, have suggested they, and not the Republican senators, have a rightful claim to the GOP nomination.
But despite the many candidates, only one national candidate this year has been a mayor, a governor, and senator. His name is Lincoln Chafee, and as msnbc’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports, he’s formally entering the race later today.
Lincoln Chafee is hardly a household name, but he’s expected to declare his presidential candidacy Wednesday night in what a spokesperson is billing as a “major announcement” about his 2016 plans.
Chafee, if he gets in, will join a Democratic field so dominated by Hillary Clinton that most potential top-tier potential candidates have stayed out.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, Chafee accidentally said he’s running for president back in April during a national television interview, only to have his staff scramble soon after to say his comments were not a formal announcement.
As if Chafee, the first official from Rhode Island to ever seek the White House, didn’t already bring a unique resume to the table, he also has the distinction of having been a Republican, an Independent, and a Democrat. Indeed, in 2003, he was also the only Republican in Congress to oppose George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.
Will any of this translate into support in the Democratic primaries? That seems unlikely.
Chafee joins Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley in Democratic field, with former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) still weighing his options. Polls have generally excluded Chafee from the mix, so we can’t say for certain exactly where he stands against his rivals.
We can, however, take an educated guess. Chafee starts the race as a distant longshot.
Part of the problem is that Chafee has spent much of his career playing for the other team – despite running as a Dem now, he was a Republican mayor, a Republican senator and a scion of one of the most notable Republican families in Rhode Island history. His conversion to Democratic politics came quite recently, which will not endear him to the party’s base.
True, Bernie Sanders is even less committed to Democratic politics – the Vermont senator still isn’t a Dem – but Sanders is a bold progressive voice whose vision overlaps with much of the party’s activist base. Chafee sees himself as an aggressive moderate, which leaves him with a limited constituency.
Perhaps he can run on his governing accomplishments? In theory, that’s not a bad idea, but Chafee wasn’t an especially successful governor. Indeed, with polls showing him with a woeful, sub-30s approval rating in 2014, he didn’t even seek re-election.
Taken together, it’s pretty much impossible to see the scenario in which Chafee seriously competes for the nomination. He’s not well known; he doesn’t have an imposing campaign infrastructure; he doesn’t have a proven track record for impressive fundraising; and if this morning is any indication, his political operation needs a great deal of work.