When news broke last week that Governor Lincoln Chafee would speak at the Democratic National Convention, it no doubt caused some head-scratching here in Rhode Island; Chafee’s approval ratings have been poor, and the governor, while sometimes praised for his candor, isn’t exactly the smoothest of public speakers.
Yet reaching out to independents and moderate Republicans remains important in what’s expected to be a close presidential election. And Chafee, once part of an endangered species of DC GOP moderates, offers some authenticity in talking about the downside of hyper-patisanship.
Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller offers this explanation for why Chafee was asked to speak at the DNC:
“I think this is part personal and part political. I think that Obama and Chafee have a relationship of mutual support, and it cannot be lost on the Obama camp that Chafee can use this appearance to insulate himself against strong Democratic challengers in 2014. In addition to Obama, Chafee may call on other Democratic officials to help him down the line.
For Obama, I think Chafee’s appearance helps because it reminds fiscally conservative Dems and Reps that Obama can and will work with them – and that can help Obama beyond RI in states like New Hampshire. In a close race like this, any additional support among independents is important to both sides.”
Still, as noted by Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, there’s isn’t exactly a large population of elected officials with Chafee’s profile as a Republican-turned-independent, “so there might not be a lot of competition for the slot.”
“I am not entirely sure Democrats really know just how awkward Chafee can be. I also wonder if there isn’t some courting going on to entice him to change parties.
The bar for success in convention speeches is pretty low, at least for speakers who appear outside real prime time. Success is largely judged by not falling on your face. Of course, I am considering coming up with the Clint Eastwood Convention Success Scale.”
As Scott reported last year, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has been after Chafee to become a Democrat. Yet with the prospect of a Democratic gubernatorial primary between Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo in 2014, Chafee would appear to benefit most by remaining an independent.