Fastest way to kilo a candidacy: Chafee calls for switch to metric in presidential bid

Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)
The Democratic presidential race got more crowded when Lincoln Chafee threw his hat in the ring... by calling for the US to go metric. The switch would be part of his plan for the US to become more of an international player, rather than a global bully.

Chafee, a former US Senator and governor of Rhode Island, announced his candidacy Wednesday in a speech at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.

"I enjoy challenges and certainly we have many facing America,” he said. “Today, I am formally entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president."

He promised Democrats a bold vision in his platform and refused to take a metered approach in his announcement.

"Earlier I said, 'Let’s be bold'," Chafee said. "Here’s a bold embrace of internationalism: let’s join the rest of the world and go metric.

"I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process. Believe me it is easy," he added. "It doesn’t take long before 34 degrees is hot. Only Myanmar, Liberia and the United States aren’t metric and it will help our economy."

Chafee told CNN’s ‘New Day’ that the economic benefits of working on the same system as the rest of the international community would far outweigh the costs of the changeover. But his support comes despite a failed attempt by the US to go metric in the 1970s. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has had no luck garnering interest in so-called ‘metricazation’ since then, despite producing a series of catchy videos aimed at supporting the metric system.

Chafee believes that, along with the economic benefits, the switch would help improve America’s reputation in the international community.

"This is just one piece, as I said, of becoming internationalist as a country and getting away from that unilateralist approach, that muscular approach to the world, that I don't think is working in our best interests," he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview.

Chafee is most known for his staunch opposition to the Iraq War, a subject he touched upon in his campaign announcement, declaring that, as president, he would bring about a “New American Century” where the US can “wage peace.”

He has long criticized fellow Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her vote in favor of the Iraq War while she was a senator from New York in 2003. Chafee, then a Republican senator, was the lone GOP legislator in that chamber to vote against the war authorization.

In his speech, Chafee also blasted Clinton, the Democrats' current frontrunner, for the private email and Clinton Foundation controversies now swirling around her from her time as secretary of state.

"Our State Department just has to be above all controversy, and it's regrettable to me what's happening now with emails, with the foundation that affects decision making coming out of State. We just can't have that," Chafee said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, called Chafee a “welcome addition to the race.”

“Throughout his career, he has consistently demonstrated the conviction to do what he felt was best for the people he represents,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz described Chafee’s path to the Democratic Party as indicative of the GOP’s failure to lead during President Barack Obama’s tenure in office. Chafee voted for the president twice, serving as Obama’s campaign co-chair in 2012.

“As a former Republican, Lincoln Chafee can help make the case that his old party no longer represents the best interests of the American people,” she said.

Despite the praise of his campaign kickoff from the Democratic establishment, the party views him as a very dark-horse candidate against powerhouse Clinton, socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley… and that was before he made the “bold” move to include the metric system in his platform.

“I'm sorry to say this because I am a native Rhode Islander and I would love to have a Rhode Islander in the White House for the first time,” Brad Bannon, a national Democratic strategist, told The Hill newspaper. “Once Sanders and O'Malley got in, that was the curtain call for the Chafee campaign.”

Chafee’s support for the “metricazation” of America may have gained him at least one vote, however.

“Setting a standard of measurement should be a matter of national assent,” Paul Trusten, the vice president of the US Metric Association, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s something that should be raised, not be made a matter of tyranny but as a matter of leadership.’’

As a US senator ‒ when he was viewed as the last liberal Republican ‒ Chafee consistently supported same-sex marriage, abortion rights, raising the federal minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy. He opposed the death penalty and drilling for oil in Alaska. After he lost reelection to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006, Chafee ran for and won the Rhode Island governorship in 2010 as an independent. He became a Democrat in May 2013, while still governor, before opting not to seek a second term in 2014.