Chafee says Romney ‘a different person’ as he woos GOP base

R.I. Gov. Lincoln Chafee says former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney is “a completely different person” as a presidential candidate than the man who was once a fellow member of the Republican Party’s moderate wing in the Northeast.

“It’s the same thing I saw with John McCain, and I saw with George Pataki and with Rudy Giuliani,” Chafee told WPRI.com during an interview at his office Wednesday.

Referencing a speech on foreign policy Romney gave last week at The Citadel, Chafee said: “The appeal you have to make to the Republican primary audience – that’s just alien to what’s in our best interests as a country.”

Chafee recalled that he used to share many of the same views as those men, noting that he and McCain were the only two Republican senators who voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and that the Arizona senator “was good on climate change, he was good on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

“And I heard George Pataki, who was a three-term governor of New York, and was good on immigration, who attracted all sorts of Latino votes, he was good on the environment – and Rudy Giuliani, he was mayor of New York City,” Chafee said.

“But when I heard them with national ambitions, it was a different person – a completely different person,” he continued. “It’s true in all their cases. And to hear Rudy Giuliani talking to a Republican primary audience is just – and that’s true with Mitt Romney. You just get pulled so far off.”

Chafee and Romney were both New England Republicans in 2006, the year Chafee lost his U.S. Senate reelection bid in Rhode Island and Romney declined to run for a second term as governor of Massachusetts. But their paths diverged in 2007 as Chafee left the GOP while Romney made a bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

Chafee endorsed Barack Obama over McCain in 2008 and may do so again next year.

Chafee’s father, the late John Chafee, was a Republican governor from 1963 to 1969 and U.S. senator from 1976 until his death in 1999. He also served as President Nixon’s Navy secretary from 1969 to 1972.

Check back with Nesi’s Notes on Thursday and Friday for more highlights from the Chafee interview.

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