CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) — Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Wednesday he is not running for a second term, bowing out of what was expected to be a fierce primary in his new Democratic Party.
The governor, who became a Democrat in May, has struggled with poor approval ratings and is a reluctant fundraiser. He said he would not run next year because he wants to govern and thinks campaigning is “hugely time-consuming.”
Chafee said it would be hard to excel at both jobs — being governor and running for governor — because “the challenges are so great here in Rhode Island.”
“I want to devote all my time, all my energy, to the task at hand,” he said.
Chafee is a former Republican U.S. senator who lost his seat in 2006. He became an independent in 2007, and won a four-way race for governor in 2010.
His switch to the Democratic Party set up what would have been a divisive primary against expected candidates Gina Raimondo, the state treasurer, and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Representatives for Raimondo and Taveras had no immediate comment.
In making his announcement, Chafee did not rule out seeking political office again and said he came to the decision after discussing it for months with his family. He said that opting not to run was separate from his decision to switch parties and that he felt good about it.
Chafee said he had conducted no polls on the 2014 race but that he thinks he would have won.
Rhode Island has struggled for years with a bad economy and high unemployment.
Chafee said when he became a Democrat that “joining a team” would allow him to collaborate with the Democratic governors in neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. A longtime political ally of President Barack Obama, he also said it would help him raise money for his bid for a second term.
Chafee does not like to fundraise and had just $377,000 in his campaign account as of June 30, according to a filing with the Rhode Island Board of Elections. He has poured millions of dollars of his own wealth into his past campaigns.
Raimondo had more than $2 million in her campaign account, and Taveras had just under $700,000, according to filings.
Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller said Chafee’s move paves the way for what she called a titanic battle between Raimondo and Taveras. She said Taveras probably gains more by Chafee dropping out, as he would have competed with the governor for the support of organized labor. But Schiller also said Raimondo may be able to gain the backing of women voters previously in Chafee’s camp.
Neither Taveras nor Raimondo have formally announced their plans.
Chafee made his announcement at the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles in Cranston. Soon after taking office, he vowed to fix the agency, which was plagued by long waits and other inefficiencies.
On Wednesday, he listed accomplishments that included reducing wait times at the DMV, lowering the state’s unemployment rate by several points, increasing aid for education and seeking to recoup taxpayer losses from the state’s failed investment in Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, through a lawsuit.
Chafee said his late father, who also served as a U.S. senator and a governor, would support his decision to stand aside. John Chafee always used to say you should leave things better than you found them, the governor said.
“It’s a good decision,” Chafee said his father would say. “Rhode Island’s got its challenges. Put your nose to the grindstone and take care of the issues.”
Associated Press writer Erika Niedowski contributed to this report from Providence.