Former Rhode Island Governor Chafee joins Democratic presidential race

Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee formally announced his bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday, becoming the third candidate to challenge party front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Chafee, 62, a former Republican U.S. senator as well as an independent for a short time, announced his campaign in a speech at George Mason University in Virginia, just outside Washington. He became a Democrat in 2013.

"I enjoy challenges and certainly we have many facing America," Chafee said, adding: "Today, I'm formally entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president."

Although his 2016 bid is a long shot, Chafee's entry into the race adds one more challenger facing Clinton, the former senator and U.S. secretary of state who is widely seen as the party's favorite for the nomination.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced his bid for the Democratic nomination on Saturday and liberal U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is also running as a Democrat.

Nine Republicans have entered the presidential race so far.

Chafee has touted his judgment and "level-headedness" as a leader.

"If we as leaders show good judgment and make good decisions, we can fix much of what is ailing us," Chafee said in his speech on Wednesday.

"We must deliberately and carefully extricate ourselves from expensive wars," said Chafee, who was the only Republican senator to vote in 2002 against the use of force in Iraq. He cited education, infrastructure, healthcare, the environment and a strong middle class as priorities.

Chafee served eight years (1999-2007) in the U.S. Senate as a Republican, then switched his affiliation to independent when he ran for governor of Rhode Island in 2010. In his last year in the governor's office, Chafee become a Democrat.

(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Sandra Maler)