(AP) – Independent Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is joining the Democratic Party ahead of his bid for a second term, two Democratic officials said Wednesday, confirming a move that Chafee has been talking about for months.
Chafee served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican but left the GOP in 2007. He was elected as the nation’s only independent governor in 2010.
The officials said Chafee plans to change his registration to join the party. They weren’t authorized to disclose the information publicly ahead of any announcement from Chafee and spoke on condition of anonymity. Chafee’s staff did not immediately confirm his plan.
Chafee has been saying for months that he was thinking about the switch, noting that he shares many positions with Democrats and that joining the party will help with fundraising. He is a supporter of President Barack Obama and spoke at last year’s Democratic National Convention.
The move further complicates next year’s Democratic primary and sets up the possibility of a three-way matchup with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo.
Spokespeople for Taveras and Raimondo did not immediately return messages seeking comment, and other prominent Democrats within the state either had not heard or did not immediately comment. A spokesman for Sen. Jack Reed did not immediately comment, and neither did a spokesman for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. A spokeswoman for Rep. David Cicilline had not heard about Chafee’s plans.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, the most powerful Democrat in state politics, had not been told of any plan by Chafee to switch parties, a spokesman for Fox said.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Rhode Island more than three to one, although most voters aren’t affiliated with any party.
Chafee is son of the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee, a former governor whose name was synonymous with the Republican Party in Rhode Island for decades. When John Chafee died in office in 1999, Lincoln Chafee was appointed to fill his seat, and then won re-election to the post the following year. In the Senate, he voted to the left of many Democrats, opposing the war in Iraq, for example, and supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage. But he stuck it out as a Republican through his 2006 re-election campaign, which he lost to Whitehouse.
He left the party in 2007 and became an independent. He made his political comeback in 2010, winning a four-way race for governor with 36 percent of the vote.
As governor, Chafee has struggled with poor approval ratings and some of his policy proposals have fizzled in the face of opposition in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, such as an early plan to expand the sales tax.
Chafee is a reluctant fundraiser, and he has often depended on personal wealth to fund his campaigns. He told The Associated Press in December that he was considering joining the Democrats to help his chances of winning a second term.
“There is no independent governors’ association throwing money around … but there is a Democratic Governors Association,” he said at the time.
By DAVID KLEPPER and KEN THOMAS
Thomas reported from Washington.