PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Lincoln Chafee’s awkwardness on the national stage has left many voters wondering why the former Rhode Island governor is running for president.
He was ridiculed for his performance in Tuesday’s Democratic debate and his candidacy has gained no apparent traction with likely voters. Even in Chafee’s home state, some say his White House bid is embarrassing and they want him to drop out.
“It’s a joke,” said Bill Oates, a 77-year-old salon owner who took issue with Chafee’s performance as governor, his lackluster responses at the debate and the fact that he’s a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat.
Chafee called himself a “block of granite” when it came to issues and said he was most proud of his judgment, particularly in his vote against the Iraq war. He clocked in at slightly more than 9 minutes, giving him the least amount of airtime on the debate stage, and was largely an afterthought during the evening.
“He was fine as mayor but I think he’s above his paygrade,” said Oates, an independent from Warwick, the city Chafee ran as mayor. “He must have something better to do with all his money.”
When the topic of Chafee’s campaign was broached with Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Thursday, her first response was, “Oh dear.” Then Raimondo, a longtime Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter, wished Chafee well.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a fellow Rhode Island Democrat, said Chafee has “zero chance” of winning and he still can’t figure out what Chafee is trying to accomplish. He stopped short of saying Chafee should drop out of the race.
Citing Chafee’s dismal poll numbers, Democratic state Sen. Ryan Pearson said, “If it was me, I’d only run if I had a chance at winning.”
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said on Twitter there’s “no way” anyone can imagine Chafee as president. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer bluntly asked Chafee when he would abandon his “futile effort.”
Chafee says he’ll carry on, as long as he can keep raising important issues. He told Blitzer in a post-debate interview he’s raised about $30,000 in total.
By comparison, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign said it raised nearly $2 million from the first Democratic debate alone, and social media metrics showed he was the most-searched candidate on Google and most-discussed on Facebook and Twitter.
Chafee is running such a shoestring campaign that he often drives to events, though his spokeswoman said he flew to Las Vegas for the debate.
Once there, he had plenty of excuses for why he voted in 1999 to repeal a Depression-era law banning financial institutions from combining their commercial banking operations with riskier investment banking.
Chafee said: “Glass-Steagall was my very first vote. I’d just arrived. My dad had died in office. I was appointed to the office. It was my very first vote.”
The awkward exchange came after Clinton and Sanders called for tougher oversight of Wall Street.
“I respect him, I just don’t think he’s presidential,” said Heidi Gill, a middle-aged Coventry resident.
Scott LaMay, a 24-year-old from Narragansett, said Chafee looked “a little incompetent” and he wouldn’t vote for him.
Some Rhode Islanders, when asked about Chafee, abided by the golden rule — if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
“He’s gotten beat up enough,” said John Gregory, president of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
Rhode Island’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Jack Reed, was by far the most complimentary, calling Chafee a sincere, dedicated person who believes he can make a difference in the race and in the country.
Reed said Chafee is just being himself, though the national audience likely expected a more polished politician.
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