Exclusive: Caprio campaign hits back at AxelrodOctober 26th, 2010 at 11:32 am by Ted Nesi under General Talk
White House senior adviser David Axelrod said this morning Frank Caprio sought President Obama’s endorsement, but the Caprio campaign tells me they couldn’t get their calls returned by Obama or Axelrod.
Xay Khamsyvoravong said he left a message on Axelrod’s cell phone more than a week ago to discuss Obama’s upcoming visit to Rhode Island, but never heard back from Axelrod or the president.
Instead, one of Axelrod’s deputies at the White House called Caprio back to discuss the president’s visit and non-endorsement.
“Our request wasn’t to talk to a deputy of Mr. Axelrod; our request was to speak with the president or Mr. Axelrod,” Khamsyvoravong told me.
Khamsyvoravong made the comments about two hours after Axelrod gave an interview to MSNBC during which he said the president declined to endorse Caprio out of respect for his friend Lincoln Chafee, who endorsed Obama in 2008.
“Mr. Caprio called here weeks ago looking for the president’s endorsement, and this was explained to him,” Axelrod said, referring to Obama’s relationship with Chafee.
“I understand he’s disappointed, and sometimes when people are disappointed they say intemperate things and that’s just – I get that,” Axelrod continued. “But the president’s reasoning was clear to him then, and it hasn’t changed.”
But when I spoke with Khamsyvoravong a little while ago, it was clear Obama’s thinking hadn’t been at all clear to the Caprio campaign ahead of the president’s visit.
The Caprio camp was blindsided to see the front page of Monday’s Providence Journal carrying a banner headline about the White House telling reporters Obama would not endorse the Democratic nominee out of respect for Chafee.
“The issue for us was not around his decision not to endorse – the issue for us is more the way the White House handled the situation,” Khamsyvoravong said.
By speaking to the press without contacting the Caprio campaign first, the White House “basically dropped on us” a negative story amid a high-profile Obama visit in the midst of a tight three-way race for governor.
Axelrod said in light of Obama’s friendship with Chafee, “he decided that he didn’t want to involve himself in that race.”
Of course, by very publicly failing to endorse Caprio – and spending 24 hours in a nasty spat with the Democrat – the president is more involved in the race than he would have been if he’d never set foot in Rhode Island.
Khamsyvoravong said the Caprio campaign wants to shift the focus back to the Democrat’s message ahead of tonight’s 7 p.m. debate between the four gubernatorial candidates on WPRI.
“Our focus is on fighting for Rhode Islanders, and Frank Caprio’s a person who has a plan to turn this state around,” he said, citing recent endorsements of the candidate by both The Providence Journal and Providence Business News. “He’s willing to stand up to anybody and fight for that plan.”
(image credit: White House/Pete Souza)