Lincoln Chafee, Governor of Rhode Island, is switching his party affiliation from "Independent" to "Democrat." Chafee had previously served in the Senate as a Republican. If he wins reelection in 2014, he will have won statewide elections as a Republican, Independent and Democrat. Chafee didn't immediately address the move, but a spokesperson Christine Hunsicker, provided this explanation:
“What you’re seeing in him affiliating as a Democrat is a recognition that there’s strength in numbers – that the Democratic Party and the president, he shares their agenda and the policy beliefs of the party,” she said. “It really is a matter of conviction with this governor. It’s been a long road from when he first left the Republican Party to here.”
Hunsicker is correct that Chafee is much closer ideologically to today's Democrats than today's Republicans. He is as clear a sign as any that the centrist Republicans of the 1990s and 2000s are closer to today's Democrats than today's Republicans, and in most cases, it isn't especially close. But is that all this is about? Could this switch also be about consolidating support for Chafee's 2014 reelection? Hunsicker said no:
“He’s fairly progressive on social issues. He’s about efficient and honest government and every move he’s made when in elected office has been to achieve that on behalf of the taxpayer,” Hunsinger said. “For anybody to imply that affiliating as a Democrat is simply about politics or about winning an election, doesn’t know Gov. Chafee.”
Maybe, but consider this: in the 2010 election, Chafee won with only 36% of the vote, relying on a split electorate which divided between a Republican (34%), a Democrat (23%) and another independent (6%). Chafee's reelection in 2014 looks a whole lot easier if he can fend off Democrats in a primary, and then worry about the Republican challenger in the general election.