Shoveitgate – why Frank Caprio whacked Obama

General Treasurer Frank Caprio

New: Shadow of Clinton v. Obama falls over the governor’s race

Welcome to Rhode Island, Mister President!

The political world is all atwitter this morning over Democrat Frank Caprio’s decision to take to the august airwaves of WPRO to tell President Obama he can “take his endorsement and really shove it.” (Rhode Island’s would-be next governor left it to our imaginations to figure out where, precisely, the Leader of the Free World should shove said endorsement.)

“We had one of the worst floods in the history of the United States a few months back and President Obama didn’t even do a flyover of Rhode Island,” Caprio said, according to WPRO. “He ignored us and now he’s coming into Rhode Island and treating us like an ATM machine.” The station has posted the full audio of the interview here.

Although Bill Clinton came to the Ocean State to campaign for Caprio, Obama – whose presidential run was endorsed by Caprio opponent Lincoln Chafee – has stayed silent in the race. Obama will be in Rhode Island today to support congressional candidates David Cicilline and Jim Langevin and to raise money on Providence’s East Side. (U.S. Sen. Scott Brown will be making his own visit to back Cicilline’s opponent, John Loughlin.)

Considering that last Friday’s Ramussen poll showed Republican John Robitaille and Caprio neck and neck, it’s possible this was a calculated effort by Caprio to win the affections of center-right voters who are sour on Obama – unlike Chafee, Caprio isn’t known for spouting off without considering his words’ effects in advance.

It’s worth noting, too, that while Obama’s popularity has taken a hit among Rhode Islanders, his favorable rating among Democrats was still at 70% in our latest WPRI poll last month. Get ready for another round of is-Caprio-really-a-Democrat stories.

Cable news has already started discussing the story, according to my Twitter feed, and it’s a headline on The Washington Post’s site, too. It’s hard for me to see how this helps Caprio in the last eight days of the campaign, but I guess you never know.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Caprio’s comments come up tomorrow night when the four gubernatorial candidates meet for our last televised debate of the campaign. The debate will be held at 7 p.m. at PPAC, and you can order free tickets here if you’d like to attend in person. I’ll be live-tweeting, as ever.

Update: Two things. First, I may try to nickname this tempest-in-a-teapot “Shoveitgate.” Second, it’s currently the top headline on Drudge in bright red.

Update #2: CBS News’ Mark Knoller takes a look at the Obama-Caprio-Chafee triangle:

“[Obama] will not be making an endorsement in the race,” says White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki. In a Sunday conference call with reporters, Psaki would not explain why the president is distancing himself from Caprio, who is locked in a tight four-way contest to become Rhode Island’s chief executive. …

As titular head of the Democratic Party, President Obama can’t endorse Independent Chafee over Democrat Caprio, so he’s staying out of the race.

Caprio’s aides don’t want it to appear to be a snub of their candidate, though it’s hard for it to be viewed any other way.

The visit to Rhode Island will be Mr. Obama’s first since taking office. He’ll be attending a $500-per-person fundraising rally followed by a $7,500-per-plate fundraising dinner – both in Providence and both to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

To amortize the political cost of his visit to the DCCC, the president first pays an official visit to the American Cord & Webbing Co. in Woonsocket, R.I. He’ll tour the company’s plastics injection molding operation and then address workers about his administration’s efforts to help small businesses like theirs out of the recession.

Update #3: If Caprio’s strategy was to draw attention away from Obama’s visit – or at least make sure he was on offense in today’s coverage, rather than defense – he sure succeeded. His remarks have spread like lightning. That said, I also notice that a lot of the comments on our site, WPRO’s and are critical of Caprio for speaking disrespectfully of the president of the United States – an unscientific sample, but interesting nonetheless. What do you think? This blog doesn’t require you to register, so fire away!

Update #4: Are there other Democratic gubernatorial candidates who’d have liked to receive Obama’s endorsement but didn’t get it? It’s one thing to have the president stay out of a gubernatorial race in, say, Alabama – where his support would likely be a net negative – but this is Rhode Island we’re talking about.

Update #5: Giovanni Cicione, who heads the Rhode Island Republican Party, just told The Associated Press that Caprio’s comments were disrespectful and cast them as a sign that Caprio’s campaign was in “meltdown mode.” Naturally, Cicione wants to get that message out as his man, Robitaille, gains in the polls.

“To take that kind of an attitude in a public statement, I think was very disrespectful and I think it’s a shame,” Cicione said of Caprio. “It shows that he’s not the sort of calm collected person he tried to present himself as.”

Update #6: Caprio doubles down on Shoveitgate. He just repeated his comments on camera to my WPRI colleagues, as you saw if you’re watching the noon newscast.

I wonder what he and the president will say when they run into each other at tonight’s fundraisers? Or will they even cross paths? Who wants to sneak me in?

Update #7: The AP caught up with Sen. Jack Reed, a close Obama supporter who is traveling with the president around Rhode Isalnd today. Reed “called Caprio’s comments disappointing and said the president has been extremely supportive of the state, including helping the state get millions in federal for flood recovery, infrastructure and to close a massive budget deficit,” the wire service reported.

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