Lincoln Chafee Announces He's Running For President, Upping The Democratic Field To Four

While the 2016 Democratic presidential field is widely expected to be dwarfed by the Republican one — the GOP already has nine candidates announced, with a slew of others still waiting in the wings — it did get a bit bigger today, thanks to (perhaps) the longest of long shot bids. On Wednesday, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee announced his 2016 presidential campaign, making the 62-year-old the fourth Democrat to declare. He took the opportunity to call for the U.S. to join the metric system: "Let's join the rest of the world and go metric."

Right. Well, it's altogether understandable if you haven't heard Chafee's name before. Despite a long career in politics, both as Rhode Island's governor from 2011 to 2015, and one of its senators from 1999 to 2007, the Chafee brand isn't exactly a nationally known one. Obviously, no Democrat in the race so far can match Hillary Clinton's hyper-recognizable name, but Chafee's relative anonymity to a lot of voters will no doubt be foremost on his mind.

Chafee's long odds do make sense, given his rather abnormal political trajectory. He has a limited track record as a Democratic politician, by virtue of the fact that until 2013, he wasn't one — throughout his time as a senator, Chafee was in fact a liberal-minded Republican, becoming an independent in 2007, and finally switching to the Democratic Party in 2013, halfway through his one gubernatorial term.

As you might expect from somebody who found himself dissatisfied with being a GOP senator, there are some interesting divergences between his worldview and his former party's orthodoxy. Chafee holds the distinction of being the sole Republican senator to vote against authorizing the Iraq War in 2002. In 2004, he didn't even vote for Republican incumbent George W. Bush.

And, throughout his time in political life, he's identified as pro-choice, which is about as rare an opinion in the Republican Party as any. In fact, he's received a 90 percent rating from NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), and even used to be a board member of the high-profile abortion rights group.

In short, he may be a former Republican, but he's not nearly as middle-of-the-road as that history might lead you to expect. None of this necessarily means he'll have a shred of hope come primary time, to be clear. As an analogue, this is a little bit like former New York Governor George Pataki's run on the Republican side — one that has a bunch of people scratching their heads, by virtue of the almost assuredly doomed nature of the whole thing.

But even if Chafee doesn't end up winning the nomination, it's important and valuable to have options in a primary season, because it forces contending candidates to hash out their differing views with a little more emphasis. Lest we forget, while Chafee stood alone in his party when he voted against authorizing the Iraq War, he stood out from a majority of Democrats in the Senate, too — including, of course, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Image: Lincoln Chafee/Facebook