Why Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is becoming a Democrat

The Republican-turned-independent has had another political change of heart

Lincoln Chafee
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who served eight years in the Senate as a Republican before declaring himself an independent, is changing his party affiliation again and becoming a Democrat. Chafee has a history of clashing with Republicans — he was ranked as the most liberal Republican in the Senate during his years on Capitol Hill, and was one of the few to vote against the Iraq war in 2003. He made the split clean in 2008, when he endorsed Barack Obama for president and launched his successful bid to become the first independent governor elected in Rhode Island since the 18th century.

So why is Chafee switching again? One theory is that he's playing politics. Chafee has been dogged by low approval ratings, and he's up for re-election next year. Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post points out that if Chafee ran as an independent, he would have to beat two well-funded opponents — a Republican and a Democrat — instead of just one. "Chafee's wagering that he stands a better chance of winning what is now expected to be a three-way Democratic primary — with two strong up-and-coming candidates — than he would have in the general election scenario described above."

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Harold Maass, The Week US

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at The Week. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 debut of the U.S. print edition and served as editor of TheWeek.com when it launched in 2008. Harold started his career as a newspaper reporter in South Florida and Haiti. He has previously worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, ABC News and Fox News, and for several years wrote a daily roundup of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance.