Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who ran as an independent in 2010, has told supporters that he will run on the Democratic line in 2014.
Chafee was the first independent elected governor of Rhode Island since the 18th century.
Chafee won a three way race in 2010, running as a strong supporter of Barack Obama. He is a former Republican senator, having been appointed to the seat upon the death of his father John in 1999 and then winning a full term in 2000.
Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has notified senior Democratic Party officials that he intends to switch his party registration and join the Democratic Party, multiple sources familiar with Chafee’s decision told POLITICO.
Chafee, a former GOP senator elected to the governor’s office as an independent in 2010, has struggled with low approval ratings and faces a difficult reelection fight in 2014.
Chafee “absolutely intends to switch his party registration” ahead of 2014, one national Democrat said.
Multiple Chafee advisers declined to comment on his plans for the upcoming election cycle.
The ex-Republican campaigned for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and ran TV ads in 2010 featuring archival footage of the president praising him.
Despite being officially neutral in the race, Obama was perceived as so Chafee-friendly in 2010 that the Democratic nominee that year, Frank Caprio, told Rhode Island radio station WPRO that the president could “take his endorsement and really shove it.”
Chafee ultimately won a three-way contest with 36 percent of the vote, while Caprio fell into third place.
White House press secretary Jay Carney reacted to the news of Chafee’s planned party switch Wednesday by declaring he’d be welcome in the Democratic fold.
“I would simply say that the president welcomes Gov. Chafee to the party. Gov. Chafee has been a longtime supporter of President Obama and not as a party matter,” Carney said.
It remains to be seen whether other national Democrats will embrace Chafee as one of their own in the 2014 campaign. His polling numbers are weak and multiple up-and-coming Rhode Island Democrats have already stepped up to challenge him.
Both Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo are likely candidates in a Democratic primary.
A January survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that Chafee would struggle in a nomination fight against those two candidates, drawing 22 percent of the vote to Raimondo’s 35 percent and Taveras’s 19 percent.
The only reason this is news is because it virtually assures a Democratic win in the governor’s race next year. The Rhode Island Republican party has no statewide office holders, no congressmen, and few proven vote getters. Cranston Mayor Alan Fung, the first Asian-American mayor in Rhode Island, has expressed interest in running for the GOP nomination, but with Chafee’s decision to run as a Democrat, the odds of a GOP victory have lessened greatly and Fung may choose to sit this one out.
To make matters worse for Republicans, the party is in disarray following a contentious and confusing vote for party chair in March. In short, it can’t get much worse for the GOP in Rhode Island who failed to pickup a single Democratic seat in last year’s state assembly elections.