Born on March 26, 1953, Democratic presidential hopeful Lincoln Davenport Chafee has been a Republican throughout most of his life. His lineage is one of glorious GOP tradition and history. His father, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-uncle have all been distinguished Republican policy makers. Lincoln’s father John Chafee was also the 66th governor of Rhode Island, a U.S. Senator, and Secretary of the Navy under President Richard Nixon. Lincoln Chafee graduated with a degree in Classics from Brown University and studied at Montana State University to become a farrier.
Chafee entered politics as a Republican in 1985 as a delegate to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention. He was elected to the Warwick City Council and eventually became the mayor of the city in 1993. After his father’s death, governor Lincoln Almond appointed him to his father’s seat in the U.S. Senate in 1999. He won his own term in 2000, defeating Democrat Robert Weygand by 57% to 41%. Chafee left office and the Republican Party to become an Independent in 2007. In the 2010 gubernatorial election, he became the first Independent governor of Rhode Island since John Collins by defeating Republican John Robitaille, Democrat Frank T. Caprio, and Moderate Party nominee Kane Block with 36% of the vote. After co-chairing Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, Lincoln officially switched to the Democratic Party in 2013.
He was a Republican for most of his life, although he remained the least conservative member of his caucus. Lincoln Chafee was, in fact, less conservative than many of his Democratic colleagues as well. He has been a persistent supporter of abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and higher taxes on the wealthy. Chafee “the missing Linc” (as other Republicans referred to him at times) was the only Republican Senator to vote against authorizing the use of force to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He even didn’t vote for President Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
Martin O'Malley, one of his Democratic presidential contenders, egged on him to switch parties while serving as the Independent Governor of Rhode Island. He declined the initial offers, however; he said, "I'm happy where I am for now." But, he eventually turned into a Democrat in the following year. Chafee voted for Obama twice, even serving as his campaign co-chair in 2012. After joining the Democratic Party as an incumbent Governor, he decided not to seek re-election in 2014. Chafee thus became just the fourth Governor in the history of Rhode Island to decline to seek a second term, after William S. Flynn in 1924.
On June 3, 2015, Chafee announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Earlier on April 9, 2015, Chafee had formed his exploratory committee in preparation for a potential candidacy as a Democrat.