Chafee jumps into race to be governor of R.I.

Associated Press / January 5, 2010

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WARWICK, R.I. - Former Republican senator Lincoln Chafee, who succeeded his father in the US Senate but repeatedly broke ranks with party leadership until a Democrat defeated him, announced yesterday that he will run as an independent candidate for governor of Rhode Island.

Chafee, 56, pledged fiscal responsibility as he entered a race untethered to either major political party and dogged by questions about whether he could raise enough money to remain a viable candidate.

Before a roomful of supporters yesterday, he presented himself as a strong fiscal conservative who has more leadership experience than other candidates and has the best ideas to revive a state facing massive budget deficits and nearly 13 percent unemployment.

“Running as an independent will free me from the constraints that party politics impose on candidates,’’ Chafee told supporters at a hotel in Warwick, where he served as mayor before joining the Senate. “This freedom will allow me to bring in the best people from both major parties to solve our problems.’’

Chafee said that if elected, he would work to repeal costly mandates on cities and towns, such as school bus monitors, to control spending, and to focus on job training.

He proposed studying whether Rhode Island should have a two-tier sales tax. He suggested a tax on items now exempt from the state’s existing 7 percent sales tax, such as groceries, clothing and over-the-counter drugs. He said taxing such goods, but at a very low rate, was preferable to raising property taxes.

State Democratic Party chairman Bill Lynch called Chafee’s proposal “onerous and debilitating.’’

Chafee’s campaign had bumpy moments even before its official start. In April, he pronounced himself a candidate on “The Rachel Maddow Show,’’ only to withdraw the statement a day later and say he was not prepared to announce his bid. He has already loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign.

Chafee has acknowledged the need to raise more money, and yesterday attributed his difficulty to the overall economic climate and to persistent questions among supporters about whether he was actually running or not.

He still has substantial personal wealth to draw on.