Yesterday Rhode Island residents received a shock when—in a hastily convened press conference outside of the Cranston branch of the R.I. Department of Motor Vehicles—Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 announced that he would not be seeking reelection next year.
The announcement sent shock waves through the state’s political world and will almost certainly jump-start what was already expected to be a heated 2014 gubernatorial race.
During the press conference Chafee explained his rationale for opting out after his one term expires in January, 2015: “The challenges we have in this state are very significant and I want to put all my energy and time into addressing those challenges,” Chafee told reporters at the press conference. Here’s a video of the announcement.
Part of what made the announcement so surprising was Chafee’s other big decision this year — that he would be switching his party affiliation from Independent to Democrat. Most observers interpreted the switch as an indication he was gearing up to seek reelection.
Chafee defended the party move as one based on principle, not politics, but most analysts also saw it as his only way forward if he wanted to win reelection.
If Chafee had run again as an Independent, he would have faced a Democrat, a Republican and Moderate Party candidate Ken Block. Though Chafee won his 2010 campaign for governor in a closely split three-way race, with popular Republicans and popular Democrats seeking their parties’ nomination, this coming electoral season must not seem very promising.
So Chafee opted to go Democratic, because if he had managed to win the Democratic nomination, he probably would have had a better shot at winning the general election. It appears that over the summer Chafee changed his mind about his prospects for winning the Democratic nomination.
The two most popular Democrats in the state, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, have both expressed interest, started fundraising and hired political operatives in preparation to challenge Chafee. While it was not impossible for Chafee to eek out a victory, the campaign he would have had to run would have been long, expensive and fierce.
Chafee cited the likelihood of a nasty campaign as a major reason for his decision to step aside.
While neither Raimondo nor Taveras have formally announced that they are running, both will almost certainly run with Chafee out of the picture.
For now, Chafee is staying mum on his plans for life after his time in the governor’s office expires, but after he lost a 2006 reelection campaign for U.S. Senate to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., he rejoined the Brown community as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Watson Institute.
For more in-depth coverage of Chafee’s announcement, check out the The Herald’s article in today’s paper.