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Jun 3, 2015 6:10 PM

Rhode Island's Chafee enters 2016 Democratic contest

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) Hillary Rodham Clinton has a third underdog challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee entered the race Wednesday, casting himself as an anti-war candidate who opposed the invasion of Iraq back when Clinton supported it.

"We must deliberately and carefully extricate ourselves from expensive wars," Chafee told a half-full law school classroom at George Mason University in northern Virginia. "We need to be very smart in these voluble times overseas."

He said, "Today I'm formally entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president."

With his announcement, Chafee became the biggest longshot among Clinton rivals who have a long way to go to avoid becoming historical footnotes in the 2016 campaign.

Chafee, a former Republican turned independent who joined the Democratic Party two years ago, has made little effort to set up a competitive campaign operation, beyond a few visits and calls to activists in the early voting states of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

The policy prescriptions in his speech included some probable non-starters, such as moving the U.S. to the metric system.

He also called for an end to capital punishment, said National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden should be let back into the U.S. without punishment, proposed repairing relations with Venezuela and said he favored an "open-minded approach" to drug trafficking.

His priority would be to end all wars.

"Let's wage peace in this new American century," he said.

Longtime Chafee strategists and donors said earlier they know little about his intentions or even his rationale for running.

"He's not done anything other than posture on some issues," said Mike Trainor, a former Chafee aide. "The question he's going to have to answer is what credible indications can he give that he is at all ready to run a national campaign."

Clinton has set a goal of raising $100 million for her primary bid. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who entered the race last week, has said he's already raised at least $4 million. And allies of former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have established a super PAC to support his efforts.

All three have begun building robust campaign operations with staff across the country, a step Chafee has yet to take.

In previous campaigns, Chafee has spent significant sums from his family fortune to further his political ambitious, for example dropping $1.8 million on his 2010 governor's race. Running for president is significantly more expensive than seeking statewide office, with some pegging the estimated cost of a successful 2016 campaign at more than $1 billion.

Unlike the other Democratic challengers, who've focused on pocketbook issues, Chafee has staked his campaign on growing international instability. His opposition to Clinton, Chafee said, is driven by the belief that the next president should not be someone who supported the war in Iraq.

Then a Republican, Chafee was the lone GOP senator to vote in 2002 against the invasion.

Clinton, then a New York senator, voted to authorize the war, which became a major issue during her 2008 campaign. Clinton now opposes putting U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq, other than as advisers to the Iraqi forces.

Chafee left the Republican Party in 2007 to become an independent and supported President Barack Obama in both his campaigns. After winning election as governor, Chafee became a Democrat in 2013, but opted against seeking re-election.


Associated Press writer Michelle Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.


Follow Lisa Lerer on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/llerer


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