PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Democrat Frank T. Caprio, the current state treasurer, and former U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee are still running neck-and-neck as the race for governor of Rhode Island heads into its final month, according to the latest independent poll.
An exclusive poll by Fleming & Associates for WPRI-TV Channel 12 found Caprio with 33 percent, Chafee 30 percent, Republican John Robitaille 19 percent and Moderate Party candidate Ken Block 4 percent of the potential vote, with 15 percent still undecided.
The telephone survey of 500 "likely'' voters was conducted between Sept. 22-26.
With a potential margin for error of plus or minus 4.38 percent, the findings are consistent with most other recent polls, including a recent series by Rasmussen Reports that had Caprio up one month, and then down the next as he and Chafee head into the homestretch neck-and-neck.
"What this survey shows me is that there (has been) very little movement since the beginning of this campaign,'' said Channel 12's veteran pollster Joseph Fleming, who found the candidates in virtually the same position when he polled the race last January.
"In my mind,'' Fleming said, that means "it is still a wide open race, and I think the voters are now, in the last five weeks, going to really start focusing in on the governor's race and we'll see whose message resonates with the voters the best.
"It's Caprio saying Chafee's going to put a new sales tax in -- 'Do you want to pay more taxes?' -- and Chafee saying: 'Who do you trust...me or someone who has been in the State House for the past 20 years and has been a part of the problem?'
"That's what this campaign has come down to at this point,'' Fleming said. "We'll see which message resonates with the voters.''
But he also noted in an interview that 15 percent of the potential voters are still undecided, and said "it looks like there are going to have a big impact on this race. Plus John Robitaille is still hanging around there with 19 percent of the vote...(and) he's not so far out of it, you can say he can't come back.''
In January in the first independent poll of the 2010 campaign season, Fleming found Chafee at 31 percent, Caprio 30 percent, and Robitaille 13 percent with 23 percent unsure. In other words, Robitaille is the only candidate who has picked up any traction, albeit not much so far.
Up in one poll, down in another, Caprio had no comment on this one. His campaign dispatched this familiar response instead: "Rhode Islanders want a governor who will help small businesses create jobs, not one who wants to raise their taxes. Frank Caprio has made it clear that he is going to get the state out of the way and out of the pockets of small businesses so they can succeed."
The response from the Chafee camp: "Apart from the Channel 10 poll, which we consider to be an anomaly based on faulty methodology, every poll in this campaign indicates it is a real horse race that is apt to go down to the wire. Fortunately, Linc Chafee thrives in a competitive environment and he looks forward to the final weeks of the campaign.'' (The poll that retired Rhode Island College Prof. Victor Profughi conducted for Channel 10 poll showed Caprio with a 12-point lead.)
Robitaille, who stepped down last winter as Governor Carcieri's communications director, took heart from the poll.
While "my opponents are spending a lot of money on tearing each other down,'' Robitaille predicted his own "positive message will resonate with the voters of Rhode Island who seek a change from career politicians -- career politicians who created the mess we're in and can't be trusted to fix it.''
"When my campaign hits the airwaves next week with a large media buy, you will see these numbers move significantly as more and more undecided voters come to our side,'' he added.
(In a related development, Robitaille drew attention on Wednesday to the endorsement he won a day earlier from the Rhode Island arm of the Tea Party, headed by radio talk show regular Colleen Conley. Known as the Peoples' PAC of the R.I. Tea Party, the group had $50.50 in its campaign account at last report, no other money in-or-out and three officers: Conley of Pawtucket, Nan Hayden of Bristol, Patty Girardi of North Kingstown.)
Block campaign manager Christine Hunsinger said he too remains hopeful that when voters begin to focus on the race, they will gravitate his way. "I think as people start to pay attention, and we hear on the trail all the time that they are just beginning to tune in, that they will recognize that there is an option to...[the] status quo and we think he will do very well.''
Among the other key findings of the Channel 12 poll: More than two-thirds of the state's voters -- 69 percent -- believe the state is headed in the wrong direction. Roughly the same number (64 percent) do not believe the legislature has gone far enough in reducing public employee pensions.