Chafee to address Democratic convention


Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Friday that he’ll use his prime-time speech at next week’s Democratic National Convention to urge former Republicans and independents, like him, why they should support President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Chafee is scheduled to deliver his remarks between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday, the opening night of the convention in Charlotte, N.C. Chafee’s address will come shortly before a speech by first lady Michelle Obama.

His appearance – along with that of another former Republican, ex-Florida governor Charlie Crist – is intended to appeal to independents and undecided voters. Chafee said he was happy to be asked to participate.

“I’m going to talk about the people like me – former Republicans, independents – about the importance of this election, and that we need to support President Obama,” he said. “I want to talk to them, across the country. I think I have a good message.”

Chafee called Obama a “friend to Rhode Island.” He said Republican Mitt Romney represents the same ideology that caused him to leave the GOP in 2007.

Chafee is a co-chairman of Obama’s re-election campaign. He served in the U.S. Senate with Obama and supported his 2008 presidential run.

When Obama traveled to Rhode Island in 2010 during Chafee’s run for governor, the president declined to endorse Democratic hopeful Frank Caprio as a courtesy to Chafee.

One top Democrat in the state said Chafee’s presence at the convention will send an important message to unaffiliated and undecided voters.

“In November it will not just be Democrats electing this president,” said Ed Pacheco, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. “It’s going to be a cross-section of people from across this country. It’s important to speak to them.”

Chafee said his audience at the convention will be the largest he’s ever addressed.

If Chafee’s high-profile role at the convention irks any of his Democratic rivals, they didn’t let on on Friday. Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who is widely considered to be eyeing a run for governor herself, believes the convention “is a time to come together and share ideas,” according to a statement from her spokeswoman, Joy Fox.

“She is pleased that he (Chafee) will be a part of that conversation,” according to the statement.

Party-switchers frequently get prime speaking roles at conventions to broaden a party’s appeal to undecided or independent voters. Crist, also scheduled to speak at the convention, left the Republican Party in 2010 to mount a failed bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent. He has endorsed Obama’s re-election.

The recently concluded Republican National Convention featured an address in support of Romney from former Democratic U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, who recently became a Republican.

Mark Zaccaria, chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party, questioned whether Chafee’s speech will have much impact on the intended audience, who may not be watching the first night of the convention.

“I think most people won’t know who Chafee is,” Zaccaria said. “He’s nowhere near as compelling a speaker as Davis is. How he (Chafee) will play in Kansas, I have no idea.”

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