Linc Chafee is one of those presidential candidates who looks a whole lot better on paper than in the three-dimensional world. He’s a former Senator and governor who has made the slow transition from moderate-to-liberal Republican to independent to Democrat, like so many other New Englanders. In the Senate, he was both right and prescient in opposing the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War, and supporting marriage equality.
On the other hand, Chafee became an indie because he was persona non grata in his ancestral party, and became a Democrat in a last-ditch effort to hang onto the governorship of Rhode Island when he was battling Pat Quinn for the title of Most Unpopular American Governor. It didn’t work and he left office more or less unlamented.
What makes him potentially a factor, if a minor one, in the Democratic presidential nominating contest that he’s formally joining today is his promise to badger Hillary Clinton for her vote to authorize the Iraq War. This could be an irritant to Clinton, who figured that vote would not play the kind of role it did in thwarting her 2008 campaign. And it will obviously help the more serious right-from-the-start candidate, Bernie Sanders.
The most interesting thing about Chafee may be what he decided to do with his life after graduating from Phillips Academy and Brown back in the mid-1970s: he went west to Montana State University and learned the art and craft of being a farrier: a master in shoeing horses. He then spent seven years traveling around the U.S. and Canada plying his trade on the harness racing circuit. This was probably pretty good training for the gig of being a very minor figure on the presidential campaign trail, and will also supply him with a vast storehouse of racing metaphors. We’ll see how long he lasts.