R.I. Gov. Chafee, an independent who was a Republican, plans to become a Democrat

William Holt

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, has notified senior Democratic officials that he intends to switch his registration to the Democratic Party before an expected tough re-election fight in 2014.

The Democratic National Committee released a statement from President Barack Obama praising Chafee as “an independent thinker and leader who’s unafraid to reach across party lines to get things done.”

Obama added, “I’m thrilled to welcome Linc to the party of Jefferson and Jackson, Roosevelt and Kennedy, and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead."

Chafee, who served in the Senate as a Republican from 1999 to 2006, switched his party affiliation to independent in 2007 and was elected to the Rhode Island governor’s office in 2010. He won a three-way race that year with just 36 percent of the vote.

Chafee has openly considered making the switch to the Democratic Party since 2011. He had a distinctly liberal voting record as a Republican in the Senate and was the only member of the GOP to vote against the Iraq War. He also campaigned for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“Gov. Chafee’s been a longtime supporter of President Obama, and not as a party member but as a supporter of the president and his policies both," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at Wednesday’s press briefing, prior to the DNC announcement.

The tepid Rhode Island economy has taken a toll on Chafee's popularity. A Public Policy Polling survey taken in January found only 33 percent of voters in the state approving of the job he’s doing, while 59 percent disapproved. A February poll from Brown University put his job approval rating at 26 percent.

The poll suggested Chafee would face a struggle against likely Democratic gubernatorial candidates including Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo. Both are reportedly preparing for a run.