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Is Clay Pell the Next Lincoln Chafee?

Monday, January 20, 2014


Family name, privileged upbringing, personal wealth, progressive politics,high-profile wives -- is Clay Pell the next Lincoln Chafee?

Is Clay Pell the next Lincoln Chafee?

Both come from well-established Rhode Island families with strong political traditions, and immense personal wealth.

Both were educated at elite, out-of-state private boarding schools and Ivy League colleges, and spent their early careers outside of Rhode Island.

Chafee and Pell are patricians, with identifiable wives of impressive pedigree (and their own personal wealth) -- and both have aspired for the State's highest office.  

See Chafee-Pell Slideshow BELOW

Barbara Bush Questions American Political Dynasties

“If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for higher office, that’s silly. Because there are great governors and great eligible people to run,” Barbara Bush said in an interview on C-Span, of son Jeb Bush possibly running for President, as noted in Forbes.

Bush continued, “And I think that the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes -- there are just more families than that. And I'm not arrogant enough to think that we alone (are raising presidential candidates)."

Pell will enter a race that already includes Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo on the Democratic side, and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and former Moderate Party head Ken Block on the Republican side.

The Name Game

Maneuvering personal wealth and name recognition -- a game first played played by Chafee, now Pell.

"Pell enters the race with a name and pedigree that he can use to his advantage in campaign ads. Over the years, Rhode Island has had a number of legacy candidates and they generally do well in this state. We’re likely to see side-by-side visuals of the candidate and Senator Pell, as well as statements about continuing the family legacy," said RIC Professor of Communications Valerie Endress. "Even those voters too young to remember the Senator will be reminded of the origin of their Pell grants. And, too, the Pell name will offer him some fundraising advantages for money not already locked up."

Endress noted, however, "Pell's ability to self-fund certainly helps, but fundraising isn't always just about the money. Pell will need to actively fundraise to help him to build loyalty and a base of support that will help him with his ground game in the campaign."

Like Chafee, Pell's early career was forged out of state. After college, Pell followed his grandfather's footsteps into military service, graduating first in his class the Coast Guard Direct Commission Officer School. Pell was a White House fellow prior to serving as Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Staff, and was most recently appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education last April.

Chafee had worked as a farrier out west and in Canada prior to his return to Rhode Island -- and entrance into politics. Serving as a delegate to the Rhode Island State Constitutional Convention, Chafee was elected to the Warwick City Council and then Mayor of Warwick, prior to serving as Senator, and then finally Governor.

"Chafee came back and went into the grassroots, the city council, and worked his way up to the top positions," noted veteran political pollster Victor Profughi. "If Pell's handlers try to sell him exclusively on his DC connections -- and Pell name -- expect that he'll be boning up quite a bit on Rhode Island politics."

Profughi added, "Typical voters aren't all that engrossed in minutiae, in Rhode Island idiosyncrasies. They will be concerned with the need for jobs, and economic situation here. I think people around Pell will be suggesting that -- the need to put out specifics."

Race Prospects

High flying wives -- Pell's wife Michelle Kwan enjoys enormous name recognition and popularity; Stephanie Chafee's work in public health and community service kept her constantly in the limelight.

Darrell West, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., offered his prognostication for Pell, who like Chafee comes armed with name recognition, money, and ambition.  

"Clay Pell has considerable potential because he is a bright young man who comes across well. He has the ability to self-fund, which gives him an easy way to launch his candidacy. His progressive politics probably will play well in the Ocean State," said West.  

"The biggest uncertainty concerning him is his youth and the fact he has been out of state for much of his adult life. The other candidates have been immersed in Rhode Island and know the major players," said West.  "Pell will have some start-up challenges as he develops his campaign. It will take time to build an organization and develop a political network that will support his campaign. It is hard to predict how he will do given his lack of prior time in Rhode Island."

Profughi thought that the familiar political name would ultimately prove strong, despite the fact that unlike Chafee, the Pell name has not been on the Rhode Island ballot since 1990.  

"Rhode Island voters are not spring chickens -- we have an older electorate on average as a whole, and as Rhode Islanders we have a long legacy of not going too far from where we are. Not to mention that the Pell name continues to be out there with the City of Newport and Salve Regina. I think it's definitely a factor still."


Related Slideshow: Is Clay Pell the Next Lincoln Chafee?

Privileged bloodlines, prestigious prep schools, lofty political ambitions.  Is Clay Pell the next Lincoln Chafee?  

Below is a look at the similarities -- and differences -- between Governor Lincoln Chafee  and likely gubernatorial aspirant Clay Pell.  

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Family Legacy - Chafee

Lincoln Chafee is the son of John Chafee, the former Governor of Rhode Island, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of the Navy, who was a decorated WWII and Korean War Veteran, and posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  

Named in his honor include the USS Chafee (DDG-90), the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge.

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Family Legacy - Pell

Grandfather Claiborne Pell was Rhode Island's longest serving Senator, having served six terms from 1961 to 1997, whose legacy includes the Pell Grant, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

A decorated coast guard lieutenant in WWII and foreign service officer, Pell's Rhode Island legacy includes the Newport Bridge being renamed the Claiborne Pell Bridge, as well as the Pell Center of International Relations and Public Policy established at Salve Regina University.

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Money - Chafee

Both Chafees and Senator Pell had to disclose as members of the U.S. Senate personal financial information -- and both a considerable net worth.  

The U.S. Senate is known as the U.S. Millionaires Club -- in 2005, while Chafee was still in the Senate, Open Secrets pegged Chafee's wealth at between $40 and $63 million dollars.  

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Money - Pell

In a Time piece entitled "The New Limousine Liberals", the magazine pegged grandfather Pell's net worth at $12.7 million -- in 1992.  

The website Celebrity Net Worth puts wife Michelle Kwan's personal wealth at $8 million. 

While Pell's first campaign finance report has yet to be made public, records show Pell gave Democratic challenger Gina Raimondo $250 during her bid for General Treasurer in 2010.  

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Education - Chafee

Chafee was educated public schools in Warwick, and attended private schools Providence Country Day, and Phillips Academy before graduating from Brown University.  

Chafee then attended the Montana State University in the horseshoeing school.

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Education - Pell

Pell attended the private boarding Thacher School in California for high school, graduating in 2000.  The school's noted equestrian and outdoor programs require that students ride and care for a horse during their first year.  Current tuition is over $50,000
Pell, a JAG who graduated first in his class from Coast Guard Direct Commission Officer School, has a JD from Georgetown University and graduated from Harvard University with high honors in Social Studies and a Citation in Modern Standard Arabic. 
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Early Career -- Chafee

Chafee served as a delegate to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention in 1985, and was elected to the Warwick City Council the following year.  

He was Warwick's mayor in 1992 until 1999, when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1999 when his father passed away while in office.

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Early Career -- Pell

Named to the 2011-2012 class of White House Fellows, Pell served as Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Staff prior to his appointment by President Obama as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education last April.

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Wife - Chafee

Chafee's wife, Stephanie Danforth Chafee, holds a B.S. in Nursing from Boston University, an MBA from the University of Connecticut, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Rhode Island, helped found the Rhode Island Free Clinic in South Providence, and was featured as one of the ‘25 Models of Promise’ in Shirley Sagawa’s The American Way to Change. 
Mrs. Chafee was a co-founder of Women Ending Hunger and has served on advisory boards for Miriam Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital, the Rhode Island Zoological Society and the Rhode Island Foundation.  Last April, she was recognized as one of the YWCA Rhode Island's Women of Achievement.
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Wife - Pell

A decorated Olympic figure skater and world champion, Michelle Kwan went on to pursue a career in public service, serving as an American Public Diplomacy Envoy as well as on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports -- and was recently inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.


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