BOSTON (AP) — The head of the Democratic Governors Association is encouraging Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, to become a Democrat.
Peter Shumlin, Vermont’s governor and the association’s chairman, this week described Chafee as ‘‘a very thoughtful person’’ with strong ties to Democratic governors and President Barack Obama’s administration.
‘‘We would welcome him to the Democratic Party,’’ Shumlin said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Shumlin continued: ‘‘We very much want to elect a Democratic governor in Rhode Island and believe we will have an opportunity to do so. It’s worth noting that Gov. Chafee has a close relationship with Democratic governors and we work together on lots of issues.’’
Chafee reconfirmed this week that he’s considering a formal move to the Democratic Party, but offered no timeline for his decision. He’s facing his first re-election test in 20 months, having won his first term in 2010 with just 36 percent of the vote in a crowded race.
Shumlin, as the Democratic Governors Association chairman, has become the most prominent national voice to encourage Chafee to make the shift. His comments come as Democrats in Washington work to boost their ranks in statehouses across the nation. There are 30 Republican governors in the United States and just 19 Democrats.
Chafee is the nation’s only independent governor.
He left the Republican Party in 2007 after losing his seat in the U.S. Senate to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, and said the party had moved too far to the right. Chafee endorsed Obama in 2008 over his onetime political ally, Republican Sen. John McCain. When Chafee ran for governor in 2010, Obama declined to endorse his Democratic opponent out of consideration for Chafee.
Chafee addressed the Democratic National Convention in September and has said he felt welcome there. He told the AP in December that he’s considering joining the Democratic Party to help his chances of winning a second term in 2014.
Two high-profile Democrats are eyeing a run for governor next year, including General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. If Chafee did switch, it could set up a heated and expensive primary battle.
Shumlin noted that Democrats could have success in the governor’s race even if Chafee doesn’t become a Democrat.
‘‘We also have Democratic candidates who we believe can make a strong showing in Rhode Island — who we believe can win in Rhode Island,’’ Shumlin said.
The four members of the state’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, last week took the unusual step of co-hosting a fundraiser in Washington for Chafee along with former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, also a Democrat.
On Tuesday, when asked whether he planned to switch parties, Chafee said he wasn’t thinking about politics now and would make a decision ‘‘at the proper time.’’