Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has a new party label—Democrat.
The former Republican senator had left the GOP to run for governor in 2010 as an independent, but now as he faces a difficult path to re-election, will make the official switch to the Democratic Party, NBC News has confirmed.
Chafee, the son of former Republican senator and governor John Chafee, lost his Senate seat in 2006 to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. The younger Chafee announced the next year he was leaving the GOP. Clearly he still had politics on his mind, he ran for governor in 2010.
But Chafee had to survive a bitter three-way race to take the governor’s mansion, and was only elected with a slim 36% plurality.
Chafee’s decision to formally identify with Democrats hardly comes as a surprise. He was wooed by the Democratic Governors Association in 2011, he endorsed President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and even addressing the Democratic National Convention last summer.
In the end, Chafee’s decision likely has more to do with political survival than anything else—but his re-election is not assured. Winning a three-way race again would be difficult, but now he’s likely to face a difficult primary too, with both state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras mentioned as likely Democratic challengers.
A February Brown University poll showed the governor’s approval rating at just 26%, while Raimando’s approval was at 56% and Taveras’ was at 64%.
And Chafee might not get too much help from his new official party, either. While the DGA welcomed him to their ranks in a statement, they also made it clear they would be neutral in a primary.
“We are excited to welcome Governor Chafee to the ranks of Democratic governors and look forward to enthusiastically supporting whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee in Rhode Island,” said DGA chairman and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Chafee isn’t the only former Republican who may be seeking office next year as a Democrat—former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the GOP to mount a losing bid for the Senate in 2010, switched his party registration last year and is weighing a campaign as a Democrat for governor in 2014.