Chafee will enter Democratic primary if he runs for governor in 2018

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

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee is still mulling whether to challenge his successor Gina Raimondo in the 2018 election, but he has made one decision – there would be a “D” next to his name if he jumps into the race.

“I’m a Democrat,” Chafee told Eyewitness News in an interview Monday.

Therefore, Chafee said, if he decides to enter the governor’s race he would run against Raimondo, a first-term Democrat, in next September’s party primary. “That would be the plan,” he said.

Chafee won election to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2000, then won the governor’s office as an independent in 2010, only to join the Democratic Party in 2013. He declined to seek re-election as governor in 2014, but surprised many the following year when he decided to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. He exited the White House race soon after the first debate.

Some had speculated that if Chafee were to run for governor in 2018 he might do so as an independent rather than a Democrat, giving him the chance to pull left-leaning voters away from Raimondo in the general election. She is planning to seek re-election, though she has not officially kicked off her campaign.

Chafee said he will wait to “see what happens over the course of the next few months” with Rhode Island’s finances, included a projected $237-million budget deficit for 2018-19, before deciding whether to enter the race.

“I’m a taxpayer, and I care about the direction of the state,” Chafee said. “If [the deficit] gets solved somehow, I’ll applaud those that were able to do that. But it concerns me as a taxpayer.”

On the Republican side, possible contenders for the GOP gubernatorial nomination include House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, former state Rep. Joe Trillo and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Fung was the party’s nominee against Raimondo in 2014.

Chafee is so far the only person who has publicly floated the possibility of challenging Raimondo in next year’s Democratic primary.

“You always think about it,” he said. “I have a 30-year career in public service, and I want to see Rhode Island prosper.”

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.