Chafee will be first presidential candidate from RI

Lincoln Chafee speaks during an interview on WPRI 12's Newsmakers in December 2014.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Regardless of whether he eventually reaches the White House, Lincoln Chafee will make history Wednesday when he kicks off his presidential campaign.

Chafee will be the first Rhode Islander ever to seek a major political party’s presidential nomination.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, which tracks such things, examined 225 years of presidential campaign, convention and election data and found no other Ocean State resident from a major party has run for president since Rhode Island became a state.

Eric Ostermeier, a research associate at the center, told WPRI.com he didn’t do an exhaustive study of third-party candidates, so he can’t rule out the possibility that a Rhode Islander sought a minor party’s presidential nomination, but he isn’t aware of one.

Andrew Morse, who writes for the local conservative blog Anchor Rising, has also researched Rhode Island presidential hopefuls and come up empty. He did find a fictional one: “Gov. Jack Crawford,” a Rhode Island Democrat who won the nomination but lost the general election on the short-lived ABC series “Commander in Chief.”

Wikipedia claims a 19th-century Rhode Island governor, Philip Allen, was a candidate at the 1852 Democratic National Convention, but Morse notes he’s found no other evidence to back that up.

Chafee is expected to announce his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination during a 5:30 p.m. speech at George Mason University in Virginia, though he is barely registering in early polls of voters and left office in January after a rocky single term as governor.

  • Live Stream: WPRI.com will carry Chafee’s speech live online at 5:30 p.m.
  • Tune In: Eyewitness News reporter Steve Nielsen reports live from Virginia

Rhode Islanders have had a little more success for the position of vice-president.

In 1984, Rhode Island’s Richard Walton was the Citizens Party’s vice-presidential nominee; he and his running mate, Sonia Johnson, won 240 votes in Rhode Island against the Reagan-Bush and Mondale-Ferraro tickets. More recently, Rhode Island’s Pat LaMarche was the Green Party’s 2004 vice-presidential nominee; she and running mate David Cobb won 1,333 votes in Rhode Island against the Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards tickets.

Ostermeier also found four examples of notable Rhode Island politicians who got convention votes for vice president, although none of them actually secured the nomination.

The VP also-rans were U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, who got two votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention; Gov. William Flynn, who got 21 votes at the 1924 Democratic convention; Gov. Charles Lippitt, who got eight votes at the 1896 Republican convention; and future Gov. and U.S. Sen. Ambrose Burnside, who got two votes at the 1864 GOP convention where Abraham Lincoln was renominated.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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