Welcome, Democrats! Please say hello to Lincoln Chafee, the former governor and senator from Rhode Island. Despite never having run in a Democratic primary — he’s been an independent and a Republican — Chafee is announcing Wednesday that he’s running for the Democratic nomination for president. Why? He seems to be focusing his bid on Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War and his vote against it.
The problem for Chafee is that this is 2015, not 2007. Back then, the Iraq War was at the forefront of the public’s mind. An April 2007 Gallup survey found that 21 percent of Democrats said the Iraq War was the country’s most important problem,1 and an additional 13 percent said the “fear of war.” This gave then-Sen. Barack Obama, who spoke out against the Iraq War from the start, a wide opening in his run against Clinton. Among those voters who said the Iraq War was most important, Obama beat Clinton. Clinton beat Obama on the two other major issues (the economy and health care).
Today, few Democratic voters are thinking about Iraq. In March 2015, just 3 percent of Democrats said the Iraq War was the most important problem in Gallup’s poll. Only 1 percent said the most important problem was the “fear of war.”
Without this issue, Chafee has little to stand on in a Democratic primary. Chafee had a more conservative voting record than Clinton in Congress and issued more conservative public information statements than Clinton, and his donors have generally been more conservative. Oh, and who can forget that Sen. Bernie Sanders is more liberal than Chafee and also voted against the Iraq War?