WASHINGTON — Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who has often confounded the political establishment, said Thursday he had formed an exploratory committee to consider a Democratic presidential campaign, saying in a video that voters want to “assess the character and experience of those offering ideas.”
The Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat made the surprise announcement in a video posted to his website and said he would spend the next few months in the early voting states of New Hampshire, Iowa and elsewhere. President Barack Obama has “led admirably,” he said, but he remains “alarmed” about instability in the Middle East and North Africa.
“I care very passionately about where we’re going in the world and what we’re leaving for our children,” Chafee said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the dominant potential candidate in the Democratic primaries and is expected to announce a presidential campaign within days. Chafee would face long odds but could join a field that could include former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Vice President Joe Biden. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, is also considering a Democratic bid.
The 62-year-old Chafee, who also served in the U.S. Senate, has often bucked members of his own party and demonstrated an independent streak during his political career. He was the mayor of Warwick, R.I., when his father, John Chafee, a former governor, died while serving in the Senate in 1999. The younger Chafee was appointed to his seat.
Lincoln Chafee won re-election to the Senate the following year but distanced himself from fellow Republicans, casting the lone GOP vote against the Iraq war and refusing to vote for President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. He lost the Senate seat in 2006 to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, became an independent in 2007 and narrowly won a four-way race for governor in 2010.
Facing poor poll numbers as governor, he joined the Democratic party in May 2013 but ultimately decided not to seek re-election in what would have been a difficult campaign. He has expressed distaste for raising campaign money and negativity in politics.
In the video, Chafee makes no mention of Clinton but cites the need for voters to consider the potential field. “Campaigns are the time for debates about the vision for our future and for voters to assess the character and experience of those offering ideas,” he said in the video. He added that Americans are seeking “safety, stability and sustainability.”
Chafee’s plans were first reported by Rhode Island Public Radio.
KEN THOMAS AND MICHELLE R. SMITH, Associated Press
Smith reported from Fall River, Mass. Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott contributed from Providence, R.I.