PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Gov. Lincoln Chafee will deliver a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention next week, joining other former Republicans in a push to burnish President Obama's bipartisan credentials before the November election.
Chafee will deliver his seven-minute speech Tuesday evening, the first night of the convention in Charlotte, N.C., his office confirmed late Thursday. He'll speak between 8:30 and 9 p.m., shortly before first lady Michelle Obama.
Just eight years ago Chafee was a Republican U.S. senator and thus a VIP at the Republicans' convention; now the independent governor is a co-chair of Democrat Obama's re-election campaign and a featured speaker at the other party's convention.
"President Obama has been a friend to Rhode Island, his policies have brought valuable benefits to the people of our state during historically difficult times, and I am proud to explain to the convention audience why I – a former Republican – and lots of people like me are supporting the president's re-election," the governor said in a statement.
"It's a huge honor and the governor is thrilled to do it," Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger told WPRI.com, which first reported earlier this month that the governor would attend the Democrats' gathering.
Most of Rhode Island's top Democrats will be attending the convention as delegates, but it appears the independent governor will be the only state leader honored with a speaking slot. Stephanie Mandeville, the R.I. Democratic Party's executive director, told WPRI.com she hadn't heard about any local Democrats being invited to give an address.
Chafee and Obama formed a bond when they served in the Senate together for two years and have become political allies of a sort since Chafee left the GOP - he endorsed Obama for president in 2008, and Obama stayed neutral rather than endorse Chafee rival Frank Caprio in their hard-fought 2010 gubernatorial battle.
"We go way back," Chafee told WPRI.com in February, recalling when he and the future president used to work out together in the Senate gym.
Chafee will be in North Carolina Tuesday and Wednesday along with George Zainyeh, the veteran Democrat who serves as his chief of staff, and Christian Vareika, his deputy communications director and chief speechwriter. Hunsinger said the governor received the invitation to speak about three weeks ago and has been working on his address.
"I think he'll talk about the importance of collaboration and working across party lines to govern effectively," she said. The governor will return to work in Rhode Island prior to Obama's formally acceptance of his second nomination on Thursday evening.
Chafee won't be the only former Republican playing the same role for Obama that former Democratic U.S. Sen. Zell Miller did for President Bush in 2004. Former Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist, another ex-Republican, has confirmed he'll also be speaking in Charlotte.
Chafee has been attending party conventions for nearly half a century. He went to his first Republican National Convention in 1964, when his father, then-Gov. John Chafee, took him to San Francisco to see Barry Goldwater receive the party's nomination - and watch future nominee Mitt Romney and his father walk out of the gathering to protest its stance on civil rights.
Copyright WPRI 12
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