Lincoln Chafee Switches Parties: Former GOP Senator & Independent R.I. Governor Becomes A Democrat

Lincoln Chafee
Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island will officially switch parties to the Democrats this week. Creative Commons

Governor Lincoln Chafee, I-R.I., will soon lose that exact suffix. The Rhode Island politician will change parties for a second time, to become a registered Democrat. The son of former Republican Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island, Lincoln succeeded his father on Capitol Hill. When John Chafee died in office, Lincoln was appointed to continue his term and was later officially elected in 2000.

Soon, however, the Republican Party's agenda soon soured to Chafee who opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom and did not support President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.

Lincoln Chafee later lost his first reelection bid to current Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. in 2006 and soon left the Republican Party altogether. In a three-way race for governor of the Bay State in 2010, the newly-minted Independent won narrowly with a 36 percent plurality.

As governor, Chafee was plagued with low approval ratings, some of which were brought on by decisions such as declaring the annual Christmas tree in the State House in Providence a "holiday tree." Chafee told CNS News that it was "tradition" to call it a holiday tree, which raised eyebrows among some in his state.

An aide to Chafee was quick to clarify that the party switch was not done in the style of former Sen. Arlen Specter's, D-Pa., "For anybody to imply that affiliating as a Democrat is simply about politics or winning an election doesn't know Governor Chafee," Christine Hunsinger said.

The half-century long saga of the political affiliation of the late Arlen Specter culminated in his return to the Democratic Party after decades of representing the Keystone State as a Republican. The never-shy Philadelphia admitted outright in 2010 that his "change in party will enable me to get reelected".

The quote was used in-turn by Democrat hopeful, former Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., in an ad against Specter in his Senatorial bid. Specter's switch failed to engage a majority of the Pennsylvania electorate, which elected current Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

In Rhode Island, Chafee's addition to the Democratic ranks spells a likely trio of gubernatorial candidates for that party, including Mayor Angel Taveras, D-Providence, and Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

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