Monday, April 13, 2015

Tossing us a screwball

While I know that baseball can be slow — and I admit to sometimes dozing off during late innings —baseball is exciting because that you never know where or when the action might happen. Whether it’s an unlikely hero with a walk-off home run or a surprise no-hitter, baseball can offer surprises every game.

While it was hardly a thrill, followers of Rhode Island politics got a bit of a surprise last week when former Governor-Senator-Mayor Lincoln Chafee announced that he was launching an exploratory bid for president. That’s right, president, of the United States of America. Because his announcement arrived just a week after April Fool’s Day, it took a few hours for the news to sink in as real and for the discussion to turn from utter amazement to a discussion about what a Lincoln Chafee campaign for president might look like.

It’s clear from his announcement and the quick media tour he has taken since that his primary reason to enter the race is to take aim at Hillary Clinton. He has no real message of his own, just a few talking points saying that as a man of principle and one who voted against the Iraq war, he is a better candidate for president than Clinton who voted in favor of the Iraq resolution (along with 76 of 100 other U.S. Senators). While we can debate whether a single vote taken in the U.S. Senate 13 years ago should have any bearing on the president we choose in 2016, I can say with some certainty that Chafee is could be a dream opponent for most candidates in the right situation. If a candidate wants to look smooth, smart, outgoing and quick-witted, Chafee is the perfect opponent to be compared to since he is awkward, speaks poorly and his gestures are either robotic or erratic. Having said that, he could be an effective “truth-teller” during the Democratic primary season, working only as an attack dog and ripping Clinton down at every turn. While this could be a nightmare for Clinton, it is a gift for another candidate poised to enter the race (perhaps Martin O’Malley) but who might struggle against the Clinton machine in a head-to-head matchup.

What a Chafee candidacy means for Rhode Island could be a bit of a headache for the rest of us. A few gaffes and awkward comebacks into the campaign and the national media will be wondering aloud how he managed to get elected (and re-elected) to various offices in Rhode Island. They will quickly learn that his only term as governor was a bit of a disaster and that while the state suffered with the worst economy in the country, Chafee chose instead to try and change the name of the evergreen that graces many homes over the holidays. Instead of growing jobs, he changed the state license plate and instead of trying to attract businesses to move to Rhode Island, he changed the name of the Economic Development Corporation to CommerceRI. While all of this attention might be exciting to at first, it may also be a painful reminder of a bad four years with a bit of screwball.

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