Longtime moderate Republican and pro-choice voice in the U.S. Senate, Rhode Island’s Sen. John Chafee, died Sunday, Oct. 24 at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
Described as “the most popular Republican in the history of [Rhode Island’s] overwhelmingly Democratic state,” Chafee’s long and much-lauded political career included four elections to the U.S. Senate, six years as governor of Rhode Island, three and a half years as secretary of the Navy and six years as a state representative.
Throughout his career, Chafee remained an adamant abortion rights advocate, consistently voting in support of legal abortion and strongly opposing prohibiting doctors at federally funded clinics from discussing abortion with their patients. In 1996, Chafee supported President Clinton’s veto of a bill that would ban certain late-term abortions.
Chafee had announced earlier this year that he would not run for reelection, setting off a heated contest for his Senate seat, which has been predicted to be one of the key swing seats in next year’s battle for control of the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a slim 54-45 margin. The current mayor of Warwick, Chafee’s son Lincoln, was widely considered to be the leading Republican contender, but is also considered to be more significantly more conservative than his father. U.S. Rep. Robert Weygand and former Lt. Gov. Richard Litchi are top Democratic candidates.
Under Rhode Island law, Republican Gov. Lincoln Almond will appoint a successor to serve the remainder of Chafee’s unfinished term.