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Lincoln Chafee’s exit kick-starts R.I. governor’s race

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s decision  has opened the door for several possible aspirants.

J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press/File 2012

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s decision has opened the door for several possible aspirants.

PROVIDENCE — The race for governor in Rhode Island is getting off to an unexpectedly early and bumpy start following Governor Lincoln Chafee’s abrupt announcement this week that he will not seek another term.

Two prominent Democrats — Mayor Angel Taveras of Providence and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo — are considering running for the state’s highest office and are expected to announce their intentions by the end of the year.

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Those two had been expected to square off with Chafee in an unusually crowded and contentious Democratic primary — until Chafee announced Wednesday that he will not run for reelection.

Chafee’s exit from the race opens opportunities for both Taveras and Raimondo. Taveras was expected to compete with Chafee for the votes of progressive Democrats and union members. Raimondo could attempt to pick up Chafee’s female supporters.

Union leaders are not making endorsements yet, but J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, a union representing thousands of active and retired public workers, said the candidates’ views on public pensions will play a big part in their decision.

‘‘One less person to vote for makes the decision easier,’’ Downey said.

Raimondo was the architect of a landmark pension overhaul — now being challenged in court by unions — that suspended pension increases and raised retirement ages for many state and municipal workers. Taveras negotiated with unions representing city police, fire firefighters, and retirees to reduce the city’s own pension liability.

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While Taveras may be the immediate beneficiary of Chafee’s decision, it also simplifies the primary race for Raimondo, who had more than $2 million in her campaign account as of June 30, compared to Taveras, who had just under $700,000. With Chafee out of the race, Raimondo can now aim her resources solely on Taveras.

‘‘Gina has a lot of money and it’s in her interest to create the broadest, noisiest primary that she possibly can,’’ said Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island.

Republican Allan Fung is also considering a campaign for governor. Moderate Party candidate Ken Block has already launched his bid, and has said that he would consider running as a Republican.

Chafee’s decision not to run could prompt others to take a second look at entering the race, according to Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, Democrat of Newport.

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