John E. Mulligan
Journal Washington Bureau
President Obama will not endorse the Democratic candidate for governor, Frank T. Caprio, when he comes to Rhode Island to support other Democratic candidates, the White House said Sunday.
The president's decision "is a victory for Linc Chafee," the Republican-turned-independent who is Caprio's opponent in the race for governor, said Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor, who said he was quoting Chafee's own stated view. Former Republican Senator Chafee endorsed Mr. Obama for president in 2008.
Caprio was unaware that the president would not endorse him until his campaign was told by a news reporter, according to his campaign manager, Xay Khamsyvoravong. Khamsyvoravong said Caprio is not embarrassed that he did not get a courtesy call from the White House before the president's decision was made public.
Will the Democratic president's decision not to endorse his party's candidate hurt Caprio in what has been a neck-and-neck race for the governorship? "We don't see the president as a factor in our race," Khamsyvoravong said.
He did say, however, that it's an advantage for Caprio to have been invited to join the president on his visit to a Woonsocket factory, a Democratic rally and fundraiser at the Rhode Island Convention Center and a second fundraiser at the home of a Providence businessman.
"He's excited'' about accompanying the president, Khamsyvoravong said of Caprio. The fundraisers will benefit Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, the Democratic candidate for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, and the Democratic House campaign organization.
But the president's decision not to support Caprio during such a high-profile race may not be universally popular among Democrats. Kennedy said emphatically in an interview last week, "Democrats are a team," and Caprio is a crucial member of the Democratic team in Rhode Island.
"As far as I'm concerned, Frank will be front and center" at the Convention Center, "whether or not he gets a big shout-out, or sort of a stifled shout-out" from Mr. Obama.
As it developed Sunday, there will be no presidential shout-out for Caprio -- at least not one with an explicit endorsement. After days of speculation about the possibility that Mr. Obama might give the Chafee candidacy a boost by denying his blessing to fellow-Democrat Caprio, White House Deputy Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a conference call with reporters Sunday, "He will not be making an endorsement in the race tomorrow."
Psaki was asked specifically whether Mr. Obama was staying neutral because of Chafee's assistance for Mr. Obama in 2008. She did not give a direct reply. She said, "He isn't planning on making an endorsement in the race tomorrow. He's obviously been campaigning across the country for a number of candidates. He is going to Rhode Island tomorrow because he has been campaigning for and raising money for a variety of campaigns, and this is one of the places the DNC (Democratic National Committee) felt it was important for him to visit."
Was there no feeling that the race is razor-thin and his endorsement could make a difference for Democrat Caprio? Psaki was asked. "He's not planning on making an endorsement in the race tomorrow," she replied.
Mr. Obama has campaigned recently with a number of Democratic candidates in other states with close races for governor, including Jerry Brown in California and Dan Onorato in Pennsylvania. The president campaigned on Saturday for Minnesota's Democratic candidate for governor, Mark Dayton.
Caprio's campaign manager asserted that Caprio will not feel awkward in the president's entourage under the circumstances.
Khamsyvoravong said independent Chafee -- not Caprio -- is the one being snubbed by Mr. Obama. He reasoned that it was "odd" for Mr. Obama not to have invited Chafee to the Providence Democratic fundraiser, hosted by Arnold "Buff" Chace, a longtime Chafee supporter.