Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley recently told Chafee he should formally join the party of President Obama, whom Chafee endorsed in 2008. O’Malley floated the idea during a phone conversation they had about the plight of the menhaden, spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith told WPRI.com.
O’Malley is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, an umbrella group for the party’s 20 state executives.
Chafee, who won office in 2010 as an independent, doesn’t have a governors association. Asked if he is seriously considering the idea, the governor told WPRI.com through a spokeswoman: “I’m happy where I am for now.”
O’Malley’s overture was first reported by RIPR.
To be clear, there’s no sign of a concerted push by Democrats to bring Chafee into the fold – indeed, it’s unclear whether state-level party members share the same enthusiasm for him as some of their national counterparts. R.I. Democratic Chairman Ed Pacheco sounded notably cool to the idea last spring.
Still, Chafee and his aides are increasingly convinced his lack of a political party is making it harder for the governor to push his priorities over the finish line on Smith Hill. “I love being an independent, but the disadvantage is I don’t have a party spokesperson – somebody that traditionally fills the role of hatchet man out there,” he told WPRI.com in April.
Of course, the possibility of Chafee joining the party raises a host of other questions – notably whether Rhode Island Democrats, who haven’t won a gubernatorial election since Bruce Sundlun’s victory in 1992, would want their 2014 ticket topped by Chafee rather than rising star Treasurer Gina Raimondo (or even other potential candidates like former Attorney General Patrick Lynch and Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee).
There’s also the thorny question of how, exactly, the transition would happen. On the day Chafee declares himself a Democrat, does the party rally ’round the flag? Who would he talk to about making it official? Who would support him if he faced a primary in 2014? How would major players like Jack Reed react?
And a party switch isn’t necessarily enough to save an embattled incumbent. Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party to become a Democrat in early 2009 and went on to provide crucial support for Obama initiatives like the health reform law – but he still lost the Democratic primary the following year.
Chafee was a Republican U.S. Senator from 1999 to 2006, when he lost his seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. The following year, Chafee left the GOP because of his disagreements with its direction under the Bush administration.
Chafee’s father, the late John Chafee, was Rhode Island’s Republican governor from 1963 to 1969 and U.S. Senator from 1976 until his death in 1999. John Chafee also served as President Nixon’s Navy secretary from 1969 to 1972.
• Related: Chafee says Romney ‘a different person’ as he woos GOP base (Oct. 12)
(photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)