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Former Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee asks questions during a Capitol Hill hearing. Chafee now lectures at Brown University.
Former Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama on Thursday, setting the groundwork for a fight in the upcoming Rhode Island primary on March 4.
"I believe Senator Obama is the best candidate to restore American credibility, to restore our confidence, to be moral and just, and to bring people together to solve the complex issues such as the economy, the environment and global stability," Chafee said.
Although Rhode Island is a small state with only 21 Democratic delegates at stake, it could become more important in this string of presidential primaries.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was expected to do well there, since Rhode Island's largely white, working-class, union-heavy population fits the profile of voters who have supported her in past contests.
But a recent poll conducted by Brown University showed that Clinton was only leading Obama by a margin of 8 percentage points.
Endorsements have not mattered too much in this presidential race, but the Chafee name is gold in Rhode Island and the Chafees are considered one of the state's leading political families.
Chafee's father, John, served as both the Rhode Island governor and longtime U.S. Senator.
Although Lincoln Chafee lost his re-election bid for his Senate seat last fall, many Rhode Islanders felt torn about the race. They liked Chafee's politics and persona but could no longer support any Republican candidate — even one, such as he, who voted against the Iraq war.
Chafee's endorsement also comes as a slap in the face to Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain visited Rhode Island last fall to campaign and fundraise for Chafee. Ultimately, Chafee lost his Senate seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.