Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced Friday he would end his quixotic Democratic presidential campaign after failing to gain traction against Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
“After much thought I have decided to end my campaign for president today,” Chafee said at a women’s forum held by the Democratic National Committee. “But I would like to take this opportunity one last time to advocate for a chance be given to peace.”
Chafee delivered a widely panned debate performance earlier this month and has struggled to raise money and generate enthusiasm in a field that has been dominated by Clinton, a former secretary of state, and Sanders, the Vermont independent senator.
Chafee’s departure comes days after Vice President Joe Biden declined to join the field and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb announced he was leaving the Democratic campaign and would consider an independent bid.
It leaves Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as the three main contenders for the nomination. All three are appearing Saturday at a major Iowa Democratic fundraising dinner in Des Moines, an event that helped fuel President Barack Obama‘s rise in the fall of 2007.
The former Rhode Island senator surprised many when he formed a presidential exploratory committee last spring and raised eyebrows when he called for the U.S. to switch to the metric system during a formal campaign kickoff in Virginia last June.
His poll numbers were so low that comedian Conan O’Brien came up with a song for Chafee’s longshot bid and encouraged viewers to boost his poll numbers from 0 percent to 1 percent because “it seems like the nice thing to do.”
Often driving from his Rhode Island home, Chafee visited the first primary state of New Hampshire several times but failed to draw large crowds.
In the first Democratic debate, Chafee referred to himself as a “block of granite” when it came to issues and said he was most proud of his judgment, particularly his vote against the Iraq war. He frequently said U.S. foreign policy should promote peace but his performance was widely panned, prompting questions about whether he would continue his campaign.
Chafee raised just $11,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Most of his money has come from more than $360,000 that he has loaned his campaign. During his past campaigns, he relied on an old New England family fortune amassed over generations.
Chafee told reporters he decided to end his campaign last weekend after Clinton’s strong performance in the debate. Biden’s announcement and Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi reaffirmed his thinking, Chafee said, adding he no longer saw her use of a private email system as a disqualifying issue.
“Obviously it’s a good week for Secretary Clinton,” he said. “I’m moving on now. It’s time to move on and support the party any way I can.”
The presidential bid represented an unusual twist for the unconventional 62-year-old lawmaker and the son of late Sen. John Chafee.
In the Senate, the younger Chafee stood out as a liberal Republican in an increasingly conservative party. He was the lone Republican in 2002 to vote against going to war in Iraq, a moment that he tried to make a cornerstone of his campaign.
He was elected governor in 2010 as an independent and twice backed Obama’s White House campaigns. He joined the Democrats in 2013 and used his presidential campaign to urge the U.S. to help reinvigorate the United Nations as a way to promote peace and stability.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, called Chafee a “class act” and recalled his decision to join the Democratic party.
“Let’s remember that that was a big deal,” Wasserman Schultz told the audience. “Because when he joined our party, he made clear that his former party had left him.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.