It appears the number of Democratic governors is about to go up by one.
First Read has confirmed that Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) will run for re-election next year as a Democrat, according to a Democratic source with knowledge of the decision.
Before running as an independent during his successful 2010 gubernatorial bid, Chafee served as Republican senator (from 1999 to 2007) before losing his Senate seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006.
This is not Chafee’s first foray into Democratic politics – he’s endorsed Democratic candidates, including President Obama – but this will be the first time he’s identified himself as an actual member of the party.
Chafee no doubt hopes this will improve his re-election odds – not only is Rhode Island generally a pretty “blue” state, but the one-term governor eked out a narrow win in 2010 and recent polls suggest he’s an underdog heading into 2014. Support from in-state Dems, and perhaps even the Democratic Governors Association, would boost his prospects considerably.
But it may not be that easy. Chafee ran for governor as a center-left independent, and at times, he’s drawn criticism from Rhode Island Democrats. Indeed, well in advance of this apparent party switch, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo – both prominent Democrats – have been gearing up for gubernatorial campaigns of their own. Will they stand aside for Chafee now? It’s unlikely. In fact, I’d expect a crowded Democratic primary.
That said, in the bigger picture, the Chafee news does reinforce a larger thesis about the contemporary Republican Party. Remember, Chafee was a Republican senator, the son of another Republican senator, and a member of a prominent Republican family. But as the GOP moved to the far-right, he found himself out of step with his party, ultimately feeling the need to leave.