Governor Lincoln Chafee, the former mayor of Warwick and also former high-ranking Republican, will speak during a prime time slot tonight at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Now an independent, Chafee is the only Rhode Islander who will speak at the DNC, though he will be joined by Rhode Island’s delegates, a group made up of some of the most prominent democrats in the state.
Chafee was invited just over three weeks ago to speak at the opening night of the convention in support of his former U.S. Senate colleague, President Barack Obama.
"Governor Chafee and President Obama have a relationship that goes back to their days together in the Senate,” said Edwin Pacheco, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, in a statement. “He has been invited to speak as a friend and as a current independent who, as a Republican, endorsed the president early on in 2008.”
Just seven years ago in 2005, Chafee was a Republican U.S. Senator sharing the floor with then Senator Barack Obama. In 2007, after losing his bid for re-election to the Senate to current Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Chafee left the Republican Party to become an independent. It was during the 2008 presidential election cycle that Governor Chafee served as the National Co-Chair of Republicans and Independents for Obama. He is currently a National Co-Chair of the President's re-election campaign.
Longtime friend and colleague, Republican Mayor Scott Avedisian, is apathetic to Chafee’s decision to publicly support a Democratic candidate on a national stage.
“Governor Chafee and Barack Obama are friends, so I am not surprised at all to hear that the governor would be going to the convention,” said Avedisian in an email sent from the Republican National Convention held last week in Tampa.
Due to the timing of the Labor Day weekend and the RNC, those from the RI GOP were not available for comment.
When asked last week by WPRO news reporter Steve Klamkin what his late father, lifelong Republican and former Governor John Chafee would think of his decision to speak at the DNC, Chafee said, “He’d be supportive.”
Chafee’s spokeswoman, Christine Hunsinger, said Friday that she expects the governor to speak about “collaboration and working across party lines to fix problems.”
A YouTube video was included in an email blast sent out last week announcing Chafee’s DNC speech. In the minute-long video, a voiceover alternates between Chafee and President Obama, with the image of a map of the United States delineated by red and blue states in the background.
“Let us begin an era of political collaboration,” says Chafee, his quote appearing in text on the screen. “Shared sacrifice, and most importantly in faith and trust in each other.”
“Unlike the Republican convention speakers who focused on leveling petty attacks, I'm certain those chosen to speak will offer a clear vision for what we as a country need to do to move us forward, not back,” said Pacheco. “It's not just Democrats voting come November and it's important to demonstrate that cross-section of the country who have supported and will support this president in his bid for re-election."
Chafee is slated to speak for approximately seven minutes between 8:30 and 9 p.m., a prime time slot preceding a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama. Hunsinger pointed out that Chafee is the first sitting governor of Rhode Island to be asked to speak at the DNC in recent history.
“I am honored to be attending the 2012 Democratic National Convention,” said Chafee in a statement issued late last week. “President Obama has been a friend to Rhode Island, his policies have brought valuable benefits to the people of our state during historically difficult times, and I am proud to explain to the convention audience why I – a former Republican – and lots of people like me are supporting the president’s re-election.”