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Democrat Frank Caprio slipping in Rhode Island gubernatorial race

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By Felicia Sonmez

In 2008, President Obama won Rhode Island with 63 percent -- his third-highest percentage in the country.

Two years later, in the four-way race to succeed term-limited Gov. Don Carcieri (R), it appears that the onetime Democratic frontrunner could well finish third.

A new poll out today shows former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee (I) leading the four-way race with 35 percent, while Republican John Robitaille takes 28 percent, state Treasurer Frank Caprio (D) 25 percent and Moderate Party candidate Ken Block 2 percent.

The new results mark a big shift from a survey conducted in late September showing Caprio leading with 36 percent, Chafee at 24 percent, Robitaille trailing with 13 percent and Block winning 2 percent.

Much of the reason for Caprio's decline can be chalked up to a spat with the White House over its endorsement in the race. Caprio has come under fire for remarks he made Monday in an appearance on a radio show in which he told Obama to "take his endorsement and really shove it" after his campaign learned that the president would not get behind any candidate in the race. Much of the new survey, though not all of it, was conducted after Caprio made the comments.

(Obama served in the Senate with Chafee until Chafee lost his re-election bid in 2006, and Chafee endorsed Obama's presidential bid ahead of the 2008 primary. Caprio backed then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the 2008 presidential primary; Clinton went on to an overwhelming 58 percent to 40 percent win over Obama in the primary.)

While Obama did not offer an endorsement in the race, former President Bill Clinton is slated to visit the state on Sunday to campaign for Caprio. On Monday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) will campaign for Chafee. And on top of all that, Caprio had been rumored to be considering a switch to the GOP earlier this year. (Caprio tamped down again on those rumors earlier this week.)

Got all that?

The volatility of three- and four-way races makes the current state of play hard to gauge, but five days out from Election Day, those closely watching the race believe that Chafee is well-positioned to win and that Caprio may indeed slip down to third place.

For one thing, Caprio's drop in the polls is an indication that the "shove it" remark was not well received by voters; indeed, it seems to have contributed to a narrative Chafee's campaign was already building around the candidate as lacking the character and temperament to be governor. As one longtime veteran of Rhode Island politics put it, Caprio's remarks were "impertinent." "Talking to the president like he's a dock worker, I don't think it's well-received, especially among older voters," the observer added.

In the new poll, 36 percent of respondents said that Caprio's remarks made them less likely to vote for him, while 57 percent said his comments made no difference.

Also working in Chafee's favor is the fact that Robitaille has a small base to work with. According to the most recent statistics provided by the state secretary of state's office, of Rhode Island's 631,000 active voters, 41 percent are registered Democrats, 49 percent are unenrolled in any political party and only 10 percent are registered Republicans. Those figures are similar to registration statistics in neighboring Massachusetts, and they mean that Robitaille has a much smaller natural base of support that he'll be hard-pressed to offset even if significant numbers of independents and Democrats shift over from Caprio.

Both national parties have been spending heavily on the race; the Democratic Governors Association spent more than $1 million from Oct. 5-25 on TV ads slamming Chafee, while the Republican Governors Association spent nearly $500,000 on TV ads backing Robitaille during the same period.

Robitaille's camp is hoping that an endorsement today by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and a visit on Monday by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will give him a boost of late momentum; even so, a win by Robitaille would be a significant upset.

As Alaska, Delaware and now Rhode Island have demonstrated, some of the most surprising campaign developments have taken place in the most, well, surprising places. The Rhode Island gubernatorial race remains volatile heading into the final stretch before Election Day, but a Caprio win -- once viewed as more likely than not -- now looks like an increasingly dim possibility.

By Felicia Sonmez  | October 28, 2010; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: Alaska poll shows Joe Miller slipping to third; Mitt Romney to campaign for John Robitaille in Rhode Island

 
 
 
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