Chafee is national co-chair of Obama’s re-election campaign

New: Chafee-Obama bond forged at gym (Feb. 22)

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – President Obama on Wednesday named independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee a national co-chair of his re-election campaign.

The two have been political allies since 2008, when the former Republican U.S. senator endorsed his one-time colleague from Illinois for the presidency, even though Obama’s eventual opponent John McCain had campaigned for Chafee in 2006. Chafee has made multiple visits to the White House since Obama took office.

In 2010, Obama quietly gave Chafee’s gubernatorial campaign a boost by staying neutral in the race between him and Democrat Frank Caprio, which famously led Caprio to say the president could take his endorsement and “shove it.” Md. Gov. Martin O’Malley has since suggested Chafee should join the Democratic Party.

Chafee is one of 35 Obama campaign co-chairs, a list that also includes Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick and two of the president’s former chiefs of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley. Another co-chair with local ties is Attleboro native Joe Solmonese, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said the co-chairs “will be tremendous assets on the ground as we build the biggest grassroots campaign in history.” Obama won 63% of the vote in Rhode Island against McCain in 2008, with only Hawaii and Vermont delivering him a bigger landslide.

But Chafee’s endorsement didn’t do Obama much good in Rhode Island’s March 2008 Democratic primary, in which the future president got creamed by Hillary Clinton, who took 58.4% of the vote to Obama’s 40.4%. This year’s presidential primary in Rhode Island will take place on April 24.

In yet another twist, Chafee’s Democratic opponent in 2006, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, backed Clinton over Obama in the presidential primary. Obama had come to Rhode Island and campaigned for Whitehouse in his successful bid to unseat Chafee.

Last year, Chafee told he was undecided about whether to endorse Obama again. “The wars are my only hesitation,” Chafee said, referring to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. “It’s costing so much money. And lives. … The war machine just grinds on. Makes no sense to me.”

But Chafee has also criticized likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, telling in October the former Massachusetts governor is “a completely different person” 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 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.”

The last time Obama visited Rhode Island was in October 2010, when he visited a Woonsocket factory, attended a fundraiser in Providence and campaigned for then-congressional candidate David Cicilline. Obama raised nearly $1.2 million in Rhode Island in 2008 and has collected $295,688 here for his re-election so far.

Michelle Obama visited Rhode Island last fall for an event with military families and a fundraiser, while Vice President Biden is slated to stop here Thursday to raise money for Whitehouse’s campaign. (Biden’s office originally said the VP would be visiting “Road Island.”)

• Related: Obama and Chafee – two Rockefeller Republicans? (Dec. 3)

(photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

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