Lincoln Chafee Becomes First Rhode Islander to Run for President
Prior to 2016, no major party Rhode Island politician had made a White House bid – despite 70 governors, 48 U.S. Senators, and 74 U.S. Representatives serving the Ocean State over the last 225 years
Former Republican city council member, mayor, U.S. Senator and independent-turned-Democratic Governor Lincoln Chafee is expected to make his 2016 presidential bid official on Wednesday in a speech in Arlington, Virginia.
Chafee will become the fourth Democrat to officially enter the race, joining Hillary Clinton, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.
Former Virginia U.S. Senator Jim Webb – the first major Democrat to form an exploratory committee – still remains waiting in the wings.
Chafee will run a primary campaign with a particular focus on foreign policy.
The ex-GOP U.S. Senator has frequently highlighted his 2002 vote against the authorization for the war in Iraq – the only Republican in the chamber to do so and in stark contrast to frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s ‘aye’ vote.
But as unusual and noteworthy as that vote was for Chafee there is something far more unique about his candidacy.
A Smart Politics review of presidential campaign, convention, and election data finds that Lincoln Chafee is the first Rhode Islander to run for the presidency from a major party across the last 225 years since statehood.
During this time, Rhode Island has had 70 governors, 48 U.S. Senators, and 74 U.S. Representatives – and not one of them received even a single vote for president at a major party national convention.
To be sure, some of these office holders were well-known and long-serving.
For example, Governors Arthur Fenner (1790-1805) and James Fenner (1807-1811, 1824-1831, 1843-1845) rank #7 and #18 respectively for the longest statehood gubernatorial tenures in U.S. history.
Republicans Henry Anthony (1859-1884) and Nelson Aldrich (1881-1911) and Democrats Peter Gerry (1917-1929; 1935-1947), Theodore Green (1937-1961), John Pastore (1950-1976), and Claiborne Pell (1961-1997) all served at least four full terms in the U.S. Senate.
None of these, however, even received a single favorite-son convention vote.
A few notable politicians from Rhode Island have received convention votes for vice president:
● Future governor and U.S. Senator Ambrose Burnside received two votes on the first ballot at the 1864 Republican Convention.
● Governor Charles Lippitt won eight votes on the first ballot at the 1896 Republican Convention.
● Governor William Flynn received 21 votes on the first ballot at the 1924 Democratic Convention.
● U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell picked up two votes at the 1972 Democratic Convention.
There have also been minor party vice-presidential candidates from Rhode Island, such as Pat LaMarche who was the Green Party VP nominee in 2004 alongside running mate David Cobb and Richard Walton, the Citizens Party VP pick in 1984 on Sonia Johnson’s ticket.
Chafee, of course, begins his campaign as a huge underdog to win the Democratic nomination and is currently polling at approximately one percent in national public surveys.
Chafee’s attempt to become a prominent national figure for the Democrats comes on the heels of his decision not to run for reelection in 2014 – becoming just the fourth Rhode Island governor to pass on a second term out of the five-dozen elected into office since statehood in 1790.
And there is this final note: the fact that Chafee will be the first presidential candidate in the Ocean State raises an eyebrow considering the person who defeated him in his 2006 reelection bid was…Sheldon Whitehouse.
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