A snapshot of former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who is expected to announce Wednesday in Arlington, Virginia, that he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination:
Lincoln Chafee has built a reputation as a contrarian in a career that has included holding office as a Republican and as an independent. In the Senate, Chafee often clashed with fellow Republicans during the administration of President George W. Bush, then left the party after he lost his bid for re-election in 2006. Elected governor in 2010 as an independent, Chafee found it difficult to build coalitions among the two parties in the statehouse and did not seek another term in 2014.
His decision to explore a presidential campaign has perplexed many Democrats. Rhode Island Democratic state Rep. Mia Ackerman said she couldn’t imagine anyone not being surprised, because there was “no buzz, no whispers, nothing.”
Chafee hails from a prominent Rhode Island political family. His late father was a U.S. senator and governor and he has at least two other Rhode Island governors and a U.S. senator in his family tree. Chafee got his start in politics as a member of the Warwick, Rhode Island, city council, and served as mayor during the 1990s. He was appointed to the Senate when his father, Sen. John Chafee, died in office. The younger Chafee won the seat outright in 2000. Chafee was defeated by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006, but he resurrected his career as an independent, winning the governor’s office in 2010. Facing poor approval ratings, he became a Democrat in 2013 but opted not to seek re-election.
Chafee grew up on an estate in Warwick, where he developed a love of horses and had an early introduction to politics — his father was elected governor when he was 8. As an 11-year-old, Chafee attended the 1964 Republican National Convention and watched Sen. Barry Goldwater claim the party’s nomination. Chafee later attended Phillips Academy Andover, where he was a classmate of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. After graduating from Brown University, Chafee worked as a blacksmith at harness race tracks in the U.S. and Canada before entering politics.
CALLING CARD MOMENT
Chafee was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the war authorization against Iraq in 2002. That is likely to serve as a key distinction against Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for it. Chafee said in announcing his presidential exploratory committee that he’s driven by his belief that the next president should not be someone who supported the invasion of Iraq.
At the time, Chafee supported a more narrowly constructed alternative that would have committed the United States to working with the United Nations in disarming Iraq and would have required Bush to come back to Congress for a second vote if he decided unilateral action was the only recourse.
EARLY STATE ACTION
Chafee has made trips to the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, made calls to activists in the first caucus state of Iowa and done several rounds of interviews with reporters. Chafee and his wife, Stephanie, own a home in Franconia, New Hampshire.
But he hasn’t actively raised money or put together the infrastructure required to pay for a credible White House bid. Many longtime Chafee friends, former staffers and donors said recently that they’ve either yet to hear from him, or that when they did, he did not discuss fundraising or talk with them about how he would raise the money needed to wage a viable campaign.
Chafee has said he envisions the campaign as a “long, long marathon,” and he doesn’t want to incur high monthly expenses at an early stage. He said the time to raise money will come, but it’s not now.
In 2008, Chafee wrote “Against the Tide,” a memoir that was critical of the Bush administration and congressional Republicans. He revels in his outsider status, writing about his disillusionment with partisanship in the Senate. The book heaps blame on Republicans and Democrats alike and accuses them of putting party loyalty and ambition ahead of the public good.
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