Chafee to attend Democratic National Convention next month

Lincoln Chafee’s political migration is complete – eight years after he was a VIP at the 2004 Republican National Convention, next month he’ll be one at the Democratic National Convention.

Chafee’s office confirmed Thursday that the independent governor will attend “a couple of nights of the convention,” which takes place Sept. 3 to 6 in Charlotte, N.C., to formally nominate President Obama for a second term. “Not sure which ones yet,” Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger told WPRI.com in an email.

Chafee is one of two sitting governors serving among the 35 national co-chairs of Obama’s re-election campaign, along with Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick. Chafee also endorsed Obama in 2008, a year after he left the GOP, and was included in a group of “Republicans for Obama.”

Chafee took part in a conference call this week organized by the Obama campaign to push back at charges from Republican Mitt Romney that the White House is trying to undercut the 1996 welfare reform law. Chafee told reporters he was “not encouraged or impressed by this new [Republican] ticket’s first attack.”

Chafee has been attending party conventions for nearly half a century now. He went to his first Republican National Convention in 1964, when his father, then-Gov. John Chafee, took him to San Francisco to see Barry Goldwater receive the party’s nomination – as the elder Chafee had predicted he would the year before.

“I was 11 when Republicans nominated the Arizona senator for president, but old enough to know he was on the wrong side of history,” Chafee wrote in his memoir, recalling the trip west with his father and his brother, Zech, on a California Zephyr train.

John Chafee, who spoke at the convention, was a Rockefeller Republican and a strong supporter of N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. “At the convention in the Cow Palace, I watched in fascination as the delegates booed Rockefeller long and loud,” Chafee recalled in the book. He continued:

They were fervently against where he wanted to take the Grand Old Party. Finally, Rockefeller turned in exasperation to the chairman, Senator Thruston Morton of Kentucky, and said, “You quiet them down.” The Republicans on the floor were having fun booing Rockefeller, and I was riveted by the witnessing of it. When I got a little older, I realized what that was all about: Rockefeller was trying to take the party down the center, and the old-line Republican faithful were digging in to resist.

The elder Chafee – who was a Republican elected official for most of the era stretching from the Kennedy administration through President Clinton’s second term – went on to back Mitt Romney’s father for president in 1968. Richard Nixon won the nomination and the White House that year.

Then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee attended his last Republican National Convention in 2004 in New York City, where President George W. Bush was nominated for a second term. But he’d already angered local Republicans by refusing to endorse Bush.

Despite that, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham called Chafee his “buddy” as they stood outside the Madison Square Garden convention together, telling The Providence Journal: “I’m a big fan of Lincoln Chafee. Without him we will not have a Republican majority in the Senate.”

Four years later, Chafee made headlines when he called Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “a cocky wacko” in response to her speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination at that year’s Republican National Convention.

• Related: Chafee: Iraq, high court made me back Senate gym pal Obama (Feb. 22)

This post has been updated and expanded.

(photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

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