Election 2016

America Shrugs as Lincoln Chafee Prepares Run for President

Currently polling at one percent


What this presidential race clearly needs is a former Republican (who was never really that conservative) turned independent turned Democrat running against Hillary Clinton primarily on the fact that Clinton voted for the Iraq War when she was a senator and he did not.

That would be Lincoln Chafee, the former senator from Rhode Island and recent one-term governor, who is scheduled today to formally announce he is running for president as a Democrat. Not that anybody seems to care that he'll be announcing tonight during a speech in George Mason University. Dylan Byers at Politico notes that even The Providence Journal couldn't be bothered to say much about hometown boy Chafee's pursuit:

It's not clear whether there's bad blood between Chafee and The Providence Journal, the largest paper in Rhode Island, or whether they're just short on resources and don't make much of his tenure as governor. But on Friday, when POLITICO broke the news that Chafee would announce on June 3, the paper ran a 300-word Associated Press item. They ran another AP item on Wednesday, about how Chafee's bid was "puzzling longtime allies." Edward Fitzpatrick, the paper's columnist, has only tweeted links to AP and NPR coverage.

Debbie Rich, a Chafee spokesperson, declined to comment on the matter, suggesting we put the question to the Journal instead. Both the Journal's executive editor and editorial page editor have yet to respond to requests for comment.

The Journal's most notable contribution to the Chafee news is an editorial from April 12, which states that Chafee "had such staggeringly low approval ratings that he could not even run for re-election as governor of Rhode Island last year. His administration was marked by his persistent refusal to understand or address the state's economic problems; a bizarre crusade against the use of the words 'Christmas tree' to describe the state's Christmas tree; prickly denunciations of people who challenged his policies; his hustling of a top aide, Richard Licht, into a judgeship, in violation of the spirit of the state's revolving-door law; and a series of actions that seemed designed only to make life harder for the state's struggling middle class."

"Maybe he craves attention," the board added. "Sometimes quixotic senators can mount challenges to establishment figures running for the presidency, though not usually after flopping so spectacularly as a chief executive."

Ouch. That certainly doesn't sound they're expecting Chafee's campaign to be remembered for showering the Ocean State with glory. A new Washington Post/ABC News Poll has Chafee getting the support of just one percent of likely Democratic voters. Reason did not include him in our July issue (hitting the stands now) analyzing likely presidential candidates' positions on government budgets and spending.

Chafee first hinted that he may jump into the race in April. Here's what I wrote at the time about whether he'd be of interest to libertarian-leaning voters:

If you weren't told Chafee had been a Republican and just looked at all of his positions, you'd think he was a Democrat anyway (pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-minimum wage increases, and eventually pro-Barack Obama). This was criticism he faced within his own party back when he was a senator. (David Weigel covered conservative efforts to oust Chafee in Reason back in 2007.)

Beyond his contrary position on the Iraq War, and his generally limp performance as a leader (he didn't even run for re-election as governor), he has done a few things worthy of note for Reason readers. He has lobbied the Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify marijuana so that doctors could legally prescribe it as medication. Prior to election to governor he was opposed to Rhode Island providing $75 million in cronyist loan guarantees to the video game company founded by baseball celebrity Curt Schilling and did his best to shut the whole thing down once the project fell apart. And as governor he supported then-treasurer (and his successor as governor) Gina Raimondo in reforming the state's public employee pensions to make them solvent.

But I also noted that it's unclear whether any of what he's done that's of interest to us would play any role in the Democratic primaries. Bernie Sanders seems to be nailing down the space as the anti-Clinton. It's not clear what Chafee even brings to the table other than not voting for the Iraq War.