Metro

Chafee ’75 will not run for second term

Analysts predict the Democratic primary will feature the mayor and state treasurer

By and
City & State Editors
Thursday, September 5, 2013

Though he began his term as an Independent, Chafee announced in May that he would be joining the Democratic Party.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 will not seek re-election next year, he announced Wednesday.

“After talking to my family over the course of the summer, I thought the time was good now to tell Rhode Islanders, ‘You’re going to see Linc Chafee devoting all his time and energy to the issues you care about,’” Chafee said at a press conference in front of the Cranston Department of Motor Vehicles. “You know what it takes to run for office. It’s hugely time consuming.”

Chafee announced in May that he was registering with the Democratic Party, which led many to speculate that he would enter a tough three-way primary for the governor’s race, facing Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

He did not rule out a future political contest or indicate any plans for after his current term ends in 2015.

Political analysts posited that Chafee switched to the Democratic Party because he believed it would give him a better chance at winning re-election, as long as he beat out the other Democratic candidates in the primary. As an Independent, Chafee would have faced a general election against a Democrat, a Republican and a Moderate party candidate.

But Chafee said his decisions to become a Democrat and not to run for re-election were separate. He added, “Some might argue it’s harder going into a Dem primary … so if it was political I would’ve stayed Independent and been there in the November election.” In switching, he said, he “wanted to find a political home.”

Rhode Island political reporter Scott MacKay told R.I. National Public Radio he thinks Chafee was not only worried he would lose the race, but if he ran, would have been uninterested in winning if it meant he had to wage a “very, very negative, witheringly negative, scorched-earth campaign.”

Chafee told reporters he believes he would have won the race if he had run and refused to endorse any of the potential candidates.

Between his time in the U.S Senate and his election as governor, Chafee was appointed as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, where he worked with undergraduate students on foreign policy and public policy projects.

Before Chafee announced he would not seek re-election, Maureen Moakley, professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, said if he were to lose the governor’s race, “as a member of the Democratic Party, he’d be well-positioned to receive some sort of federal appointment,” The Herald previously reported.

As governor, Chafee has faced low approval ratings, while the other potential gubernatorial candidates are some of the state’s most popular Democrats. Chafee received some national recognition during the 2012 election, when he was the only non-Democrat to be a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention.

Chafee served as a U.S. senator for Rhode Island between 1999 and 2007 — during which time he was a Republican — before running for governor as an Independent in 2010, winning a closely fought three-way race.

His time as governor proved to be more difficult than he imagined, Chafee said. His term has been marked by a drawn-out effort in collaboration with Raimondo to reform the state’s dramatically underfunded pension system.

Analysts speculate the Democratic primary will now be a contest between Raimondo and Taveras. The Democratic candidate is expected to face Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Moderate Kevin Block.

Both MacKay and Associate Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller, who spoke to the Providence Journal, said Chafee dropping out would provide Taveras with a slight advantage over Raimondo. Chafee’s union supporters will likely head to Taveras, Schiller told the Journal, but that shift would by no means guarantee his win.

Soon after Chafee made his announcement, Cook Political Report switched its prediction for the Rhode Island governor’s race from “toss up” to “lean Democratic.” The switch reflects the view that even if Chafee could have beaten Taveras and Raimondo to win the Democratic nomination, he would have had the most trouble of the three winning the general election.

Fung told WPRO that Chafee’s decision “doesn’t change the calculus as I consider what I might be able to offer to the residents of Rhode Island.”

 

A previous version of this article was published Sept. 4 at 3:02 p.m.