- Associated Press - Friday, April 10, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - From his former deputy, to a top aide, to lawmakers with whom he worked, no one knew Lincoln Chafee had presidential ambitions.

The former Rhode Island governor shocked many, if not all, of his former colleagues Thursday when he announced he had formed an exploratory committee to consider a Democratic presidential campaign.

Democratic state Rep. Mia Ackerman says she can’t imagine anyone not being surprised. There was “no buzz, no whispers, nothing,” she added.

Chafee’s Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and chief of staff, George Zainyeh, also said they had no idea Chafee was considering running in 2016.

“When he said he wasn’t running again for governor, we all thought he’d enjoy private life,” Ackerman said.

Facing poor approval ratings, Chafee decided in 2013 not to seek re-election in what would have been a difficult campaign.

As he was making that decision, Chafee said Friday, he spoke with his wife, Stephanie, about running for president. She told him if he wanted to focus on international issues, he should think about leaving state office so he wouldn’t be busy with those duties when it came time to consider higher office.

Leading up to Thursday’s announcement, Chafee said he only told relatives and some supporters from previous campaigns about his intentions. Chafee said he wanted to craft his message on his website on his own terms and didn’t want word to get out before the site was ready.

“I wanted it to be very, very accurate as to why I’m interested in running, so that’s why I kept it a very tight circle,” he said.

Chafee had what one lawmaker described as a “bumpy ride” in the statehouse. Chafee agrees.

Republican state Rep. Robert Lancia said people were disappointed Chafee didn’t do more to improve the state’s economy. Rhode Island hasn’t rebounded from the recession like other New England states have, and it has struggled for years with one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S.

Chafee said it was much harder than he thought it would be to get everyone to work together, and he was surprised by the “irrational negativism” he encountered.

Chafee upset some, including Lancia, by refusing to call the evergreen erected in the statehouse every December a Christmas tree, instead referring to it as a “holiday tree” to acknowledge the state’s religious diversity, and by allowing a contentious toll to be added to the Sakonnet River Bridge. At the end of his term Chafee shut down the toll.

“I thought he was pretty much done,” Lancia said. “But maybe he sees something in the nation and thinks he can make a difference.”

Democratic state Rep. John Edwards, the House majority whip, said he was shocked to hear Chafee’s news.

“I want to know what his intentions are,” Edwards said. “If he couldn’t fix Rhode Island, how is he going to fix the country?”

On the other hand, Democratic state Rep. Joseph Shekarchi said, Chafee may “play well” to a national audience, more so than a local one. Chafee could be a “formidable candidate,” he added.

“He’s more attuned to foreign policy issues than the nitty-gritty of running state government,” Shekarchi said.

The 62-year-old Chafee said he’s interested because he wants the nation’s international policies to be focused on peace, not war.

He was appointed to the U.S. Senate after his father, John Chafee, died while serving as a senator in 1999. Chafee was mayor of Warwick at the time.

Chafee won re-election to the Senate the following year as a Republican and cast the party’s only vote against the Iraq war. He lost his seat in 2006 to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, became an independent in 2007, and narrowly won the race for governor in 2010.

As governor, Chafee legalized gay marriage, started up a state-run health insurance exchange and worked to increase school spending. He joined the Democratic Party in 2013. Chafee considers the state’s dropping unemployment rate as an accomplishment, as well as the improving financial health of struggling municipalities.

“Yes it was bumpy, but in the end, what matters is how you end up,” Chafee said.

State Rep. Joseph McNamara, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said Chafee led the state during a difficult time and has strong credentials.

“He’s too young to retire,” McNamara said. “I was surprised, but I certainly wish him the best.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide