The wife of Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee told The Associated Press she is proud of his decision not to run for a second term, and on Friday tamped down speculation that she did not want to pour more of her fortune into a political campaign for her husband.
The Democratic governor made the surprise announcement on Wednesday, explaining that he wanted to focus on governing rather than campaigning. Chafee was an independent when he narrowly won a four-way race for governor in 2010, and he switched to the Democratic Party in May.
The decision put him into what could have been an expensive and divisive primary because two other high-profile Democrats are considering runs for governor: General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Chafee has poor job approval ratings and he has far less money in his campaign accounts than Raimondo or Taveras.
Stephanie Chafee told the AP that her husband thought about what to do for a very long time, and finally concluded that "a difficult primary was not in the best interest of the citizens of Rhode Island," a decision she said took courage.
"We both felt this was the right moment for him to say 'I've been exemplary, I love my job, and I want to spend literally the next 16 months making Rhode Island the best that it can be, rather than spending the next 16 months running in a primary," she said.
Lincoln Chafee, a former U.S. senator, comes from a political family. His late father, John Chafee, was a U.S. senator and governor, and he has at least two other Rhode Island governors and a U.S. senator in his family tree.
His hastily assembled announcement on Wednesday was made outside the Division of Motor Vehicles, and the governor was joined by only a handful of staff. It struck some observers as odd that not a single family member was present at an announcement that could bring the Chafee family's decades-long involvement in politics to a close.
Stephanie Chafee said she knew he was making the announcement, but that it never even came up for her to attend.
"This is about him. You have to understand this is his political life, his political career. He likes to do it his way. He is a maverick. That was his way, and I respect that. I honor that. I think it's right," she said. "I know that may sound funny. ... I've always done my thing and he's always done his thing. That's just the way it always has been."
She said they had dinner together that night and that he's relieved and feels a bit bittersweet.
While she has appeared at big events with him such as the inauguration and his signing of legislation to legalize gay marriage, Stephanie Chafee has continued to focus on her own philanthropy and charity work rather than her unofficial role as first lady of Rhode Island. On Friday, she spoke by phone because she was traveling out of state.
Stephanie Chafee comes from one of the state's most wealthy and historically prominent families. She has poured millions into her husband's past campaigns, and some have speculated that she was reluctant to spend any more. But she said that wasn't the case.
"I have always supported my husband. I will continue to support my husband in whatever endeavors he chooses," she told the AP. "If he wanted to run the campaign, I would have backed him 100 percent."
The governor said on Wednesday that he had been discussing whether to run again with his family for months, and that a key time came last month when he went on vacation with his wife in Maine. They talked it over extensively during the 6 1/2-hour drives there and back.
Stephanie Chafee described the trip as a second honeymoon, and that for the first time since their high-school and college-aged children were born, they made the drive to Maine without children in the car. She said they don't often get much alone time together.
"That was very special," she said.