WARWICK, R.I. (AP) ? Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined the Democratic Party on Thursday, leaving behind his status as the nation's only independent governor and shaking off the last of his Republican legacy.
Shortly before changing his party affiliation at Warwick City Hall on Thursday morning, Chafee told The Associated Press that he has not changed and will continue to be the same public servant that he's been his entire career.
Chafee was a longtime Republican who became an independent in 2007, a year after losing his seat in the U.S. Senate. He is the 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. But he stuck it out as a Republican through his 2006 re-election campaign, brushing off questions at the time about why he didn't switch parties. He lost to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.
Chafee made a political comeback in 2010, winning a four-way race for governor with 36 percent of the vote.
He is facing a tough fight when he runs for a second term next year. As governor, Chafee has struggled with poor approval ratings. Some of his policy proposals, such as an early plan to expand the sales tax, have fizzled in the face of opposition in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Two well-known Democrats, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo, have indicated they're interested in running for governor.
Chafee is a reluctant fundraiser, and he has often relied on his personal wealth to fund his campaigns. He has said it is tough to raise money as a political independent, and told the AP in December that he was considering joining the Democrats to help his chances of winning a second term.
He may be banking in part on his strong relationship with President Barack Obama to give him a lift among voters and in his campaign account. Obama said on Wednesday he was thrilled to welcome Chafee to the party, although stopped short of an endorsement.
Although registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nearly 4-to-1 in Rhode Island, the state has not had a Democratic governor for years. Chafee will become the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1995.