Saturday December 15, 2012

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Friday that he’s considering joining the Democratic Party to help his chances of winning a second term.

Chafee told The Associated Press that he shares many views with Democrats and that joining them might make it easier to raise money for the 2014 campaign. He said there’s no timetable for his decision but he is actively raising money to run for re-election, which he said is a "good indication" of his plans.

"I have to make some decisions about that," he said of his party affiliation. "There is no independent governors association throwing money around ... but there is a Democratic Governors Association."

A decision to join the Democrats would complicate an already crowded field of Democrats thought to be eyeing a gubernatorial run, most notably Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Former state auditor general Ernest Almonte, a Democrat, already has announced his intention to run.

Chafee, a former Republican, is the nation’s only sitting independent governor.

He supported Barack Obama’s 2008 White House run and was a co-chairman of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. He addressed this year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and said he felt welcome there.

He said he hasn’t had any formal talks with Democrats about joining their party. He said he’s unlikely to return to the Republican Party, which he left in 2007 after losing his U.S. Senate seat.

"I wouldn’t have left the Republican Party if I thought there was ever a way I could go back," he said. "... It’s not in my nature to make a decision and then backtrack."

Chafee’s father, the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee, was a leading GOP moderate who helped define the party’s brand in Rhode Island for decades.

Chafee dismissed rumors that he might take a position in Washington, D.C., with Obama’s administration.

"I’m happy," he said of his current job.

State Sen. Paul Jabour, D-Providence, said that despite Chafee’s Republican roots, he’s always been independent in spirit.

"We’re a party that’s open to all," he said.

He predicted that a decision by Chafee to join the Democrats would prompt some potential candidates for governor to reconsider their options for 2014.

"It would certainly make for an interesting primary," he said.

Telephone calls seeking comment from Raimondo and the state Democratic Party were not immediately returned Friday. A spokesman for Taveras declined to comment.

State Republican Party Chairman Mark Zaccaria said news that Chafee is considering joining the Democrats isn’t surprising "given the arc of Lincoln Chafee’s political philosophy."

"He’s always been an independent thinker, and he wasn’t a party line guy in the Republican Party," he said. "So I wouldn’t expect him to be a party line guy in the Democratic Party either."