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Chafee in Lebanon: ‘Wage Peace’

Friday, June 05, 2015
Lebanon — The day after he announced his run for the presidency, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee visited the Upper Valley to explain to Granite State voters what distinguished him, a one-time Republican, in a growing Democratic primary field.

Chafee, who stepped down as the state’s chief executive this year, touted his experience in local, state and national government during remarks Thursday night at the AVA Gallery and Art Center. He also said the United States must “wage peace” abroad and divert money from military spending to infrastructure. As a U.S. senator in 2002, he opposed the Iraq war, a fact that he contrasted repeatedly with the record of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who voted for it.

Soft-spoken and accessible with a faint Rhode Island twang, Chafee fielded pointed questions from the roughly 50 voters, politicians and organizers in attendance.

“There are four Democratic candidates running for president in the upcoming primary. Why should I vote for you?” Tom Elverson, a recent transplant from Pennsylvania, asked the former governor.

Chafee said Elverson should consider his anti-war, pro-marriage equality record and his character, as evidenced by a lack of ethical scandals in a state known for its corrupt political culture. He also mentioned a third category — “vision” — though he did not elaborate as to its particulars.

Afterward, Elverson said he partially was satisfied with Chafee’s answer, as he had wanted the candidate to explain how there was a “definitive difference” between himself, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Clinton.

Elverson said he preferred Sanders to Chafee, who struck him as “not quite as progressive as Bernie.”

Elsa Garmire, of Hanover, said she was torn between Clinton and Chafee, who barely registers in many polls gauging the 2016 race.

Garmire, who held a button reading “Trust Chafee,” said she had voted for Clinton in 2008 and added that she wanted a woman to be president. Now, given the racism she said President Obama had faced in office, she said she was unsure that the country was ready for a woman president, who might also have to fight through sexism to get things done.

“There’s no question that he’s got the experience we need,” she said of Chafee. “And he’s got all the right policy views.”

Referring to Chafee’s previous tenure as a member of the Republican Party, she added, “Know(ing) your enemy is a very important part of any political situation.”

The candidate from Rhode Island has occupied the gamut of political posts, having served as a mayor, a governor and a senator while twice switching his party affiliation.

Chafee became a U.S. senator in 1999, when Rhode Island’s governor appointed him to complete the term of his father, who died in office. The younger Chafee served as a Republican and during his subsequent full term, in 2002, he was the only member of his party to vote against the Iraq war.

As a legislator, political commentators sometimes called Chafee a “RINO,” standing for “Republican In Name Only” and referring to his progressive positions on reproductive rights, foreign policy, same-sex marriage and gun control, among other issues.

He lost re-election in 2006 to a Democrat, and the next year switched his party affiliation to Independent. In 2011, he became governor of Rhode Island, and two years later joined the Democratic Party.

Bill Secord, who is vice chairman of Lebanon’s Democratic committee, said his preference among the field of Democrats, which also includes former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, “tend(ed) to shift from day to day.”

“I’m a pragmatic machine politician,” he said. “I’m looking for who can win. I’m also progressive, and there’s some tension in that.”

Secord said he believed Clinton was “the most electable” and Sanders had “the truest message.” As for Chafee, Secord said he knew very little about the candidate before the event.

Chafee, for his part, lashed out against Clinton on multiple occasions, criticizing her vote for the authorization of force in Iraq, which she has since characterized as a mistake.

“It should be that the Democratic nominee for president should be right on this issue and not complicit in the mistake,” he said, going on to attack Clinton’s record as secretary of state, which he said had furthered U.S. military aggression abroad.

Chafee also advocated ending U.S. use of military drones, which he said created more enemies than it killed, and called for a reeling back of the national security state.

“Congress did a good thing lately,” he said, referring to the recent vote to limit the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. “That doesn’t happen very often, and that got us away from warrantless wiretapping.

“Now, let’s bring Snowden home,” he added, saying the NSA contractor who revealed the intelligence agency’s secrets had done so responsibly, through the hands of journalists, and deserved to be allowed to return. “He did the right thing.”

Asked how he planned to lure voters away from Sanders, a progressive with similar positions on domestic issues, Chafee pointed to his foreign policy experience.

“I’m different in that I’m focused not only on the national and domestic issues but the international issues,” Chafee said in an interview after the event. “I haven’t heard much from (Sanders) on the international issues; I care about both.”

Chafee noted that he and Sanders differ over free trade: Chafee is a proponent, while Sanders is not.

Another attendee, Judy Rocchio, of Hanover, said she was still undecided, and although she was pleased with some of Chafee’s positions, she questioned his dynamism as a public speaker.

“He needs to get his mannerisms and his voice up a bit,” she said.

Chafee also hinted at how he would combat a Republican candidate in the general election, saying it was important for Democrats to tie the country’s foreign policy issues — especially the widespread conflict in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State — to the GOP.

“I think after Sept. 11 there was this reservoir of fear and anger out there by the American people, and on top of that there was the crash of the American economy,” he said in the interview afterward. “The Republican party was very successful in taking those strong emotions and using them to their advantage — and not in our best interest.”

Chafee will continue campaigning in New Hampshire in the coming weeks, according to a campaign spokesperson who said the former governor so far is scheduled to visit Squam Lake on June 14 and Coos County on June 26.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

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