WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee made a surprise announcement Thursday that he was considering a Democratic presidential campaign in 2016. Key things to know about Chafee:
Lincoln Chafee has built a reputation as a contrarian in a career that has included holding office as a Republican and as an independent. In the Senate, Chafee often clashed with fellow Republicans during the administration of President George W. Bush, then left the party after he lost his bid for re-election in 2006. Elected governor in 2010 as an independent, Chafee found it difficult to build coalitions among the two parties in the statehouse and did not seek another term in 2014. His decision to explore a presidential campaign perplexed many Democrats.
Chafee hails from a prominent Rhode Island political family. His late father was a U.S. senator and governor and he has at least two other Rhode Island governors and a U.S. senator in his family tree. Chafee got his start in politics as a member of the Warwick, Rhode Island, city council, and later served as mayor during the 1990s. He was appointed to the Senate when his father, Sen. John Chafee, died in office, and the younger Chafee won the seat outright in 2000. Chafee was defeated by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006, but he resurrected his career as an independent, winning the governor's office in 2010. Facing poor approval ratings, he became a Democrat in 2013 but opted not to seek re-election.
Chafee grew up on an estate in Warwick, where he developed a love of horses and had an early introduction to politics — his father was elected governor when he was 8. As an 11-year-old, Chafee attended the 1964 Republican National Convention and watched Sen. Barry Goldwater claim the party's nomination. Chafee later attended Phillips Academy Andover, where he was a classmate of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. After graduating from Brown University, he worked as a blacksmith at harness race tracks in the U.S. and Canada before entering politics.
CALLING CARD MOMENT
Chafee was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against the war authorization against Iraq in 2002 and it could serve as a key distinction if he runs against likely Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for it.
At the time, Chafee supported a more narrowly constructed alternative that would have committed the United States to working with the United Nations in disarming Iraq and would have required Bush to come back to Congress for a second vote if he decided unilateral action was the only recourse.
Announcing his presidential exploratory committee, Chafee said the war authorization was a "mistake" and should disqualify anyone who supported it. "I don't think the next president of the United States should have voted in favor of that mistake," he said.
EARLY STATE ACTION
To date, none. Chafee's decision to explore a campaign came as a surprise to most. He said he intends to reach out to party officials in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he will explore the contest accompanied by a small group of former advisers with few ties to presidential politics. Chafee and his wife, Stephanie, own a home in Laconia, New Hampshire, according to ethics disclosures filed when he was governor.
While he spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Chafee only became a Democrat in 2013. In his memoir, he derides a "parade of Democratic Bush enablers" who traveled to Rhode Island to campaign for Whitehouse in 2006, including senators such as Clinton, Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York.
In 2008, Chafee wrote "Against the Tide," a memoir that was critical of the Bush administration and congressional Republicans. He revels in his outsider status, writing about his disillusionment with partisanship in the Senate. The book heaps blame on Republicans and Democrats alike and accuses them of putting party loyalty and ambition ahead of the public good.
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