campaign 2010

URI takes to Facebook to promote Question #2

November 1st, 2010 at 11:34 am by under General Talk

Candidates aren’t the only ones embracing social media ahead of tomorrow’s election.

The University of Rhode Island has been buying Facebook ads to drum up support for Question #2 on tomorrow’s ballot, which would give the state permission to borrow $78 million to build a new chemistry building at URI and a new art building at RIC. Here’s the ad I saw, which leads to an Essential2RI fan page with more information:

I asked URI where the money was coming from to pay for the Facebook ads, and an administrator said the school has a separate account that takes donations solely for the purpose of promoting Question #2. URI expects to spend about $125,000 campaigning for the ballot question when all is said in done. The money has come from the URI Alumni Association, the URI Foundation, and some faculty groups, among others.

The URI/RIC question is one of four on tomorrow’s ballot in Rhode Island. The quartet of queries asks if the state should:

  1. remove “and Providence Plantations” from its official name?
  2. … borrow $78 million for the aforementioned new buildings at URI and RIC?
  3. … borrow $85 million for highway, road and bridge projects and RIPTA buses?
  4. … borrow $15 million to buy Rocky Point and Shooters and repair Fort Adams?

Across the border in Massachusetts, voters will decide on three ballot questions tomorrow.

As anyone who’s visited a Bay State liquor store lately knows, Question #1 would exempt alcohol from the state sales tax again, as was the case until last year. (The excise tax would stay.) Question #2 would repeal Chapter 40B, the long-controversial subsidized housing law enacted in 1969. And Question #3 – the one getting the most attention – would drop the Massachusetts sales tax rate from 6.25% to 3%.

P.S. Wondering about all that borrowing Rhode Island is asking to do? I took a look at the state’s debt level back in the late summer – see here and the follow-up here.


Happy Election Eve from Nesi’s Notes

November 1st, 2010 at 9:00 am by under General Talk

Happy Election Eve! It’s like Christmas Eve, just with robo-calls instead of chestnuts.

It’s a celebrity-filled two days for political types here in Rhode Island. Bill Clinton paid a Halloween visit to Veterans Memorial Auditorium yesterday on behalf of Frank Caprio’s struggling campaign, while today Mitt Romney will visit on behalf of Republicans John Loughlin and John Robitaille, and Mike Bloomberg will be stopping by for Lincoln Chafee. (According to the Chafee campaign, Bloomberg will even do a little phone banking on behalf of their man.) And Rhode Island’s fractured Democratic Party leadership plans to put on a show of unity this morning with a campaign swing through the Modern Diner, the East Providence Senior Center and a Cranston Stop & Shop.

As for me, I’m planning to take a deeper dive into our WPRI 12 poll from late last week, looking at some of the interesting trends we’re seeing among different voters. I’ll also be keeping an eye on last-minute campaign developments, as will my colleagues on TV.

And it’s not too early to decide where you’ll turn tomorrow night to get live results once the polls close – though is it really even a question? You’ll want to stay right here with me on WPRI.com – I’ll have live results from Rhode Island and Massachusetts here on the blog (the same way we did on primary night, when WPRI.com was first to call each race) and we’ll have full coverage on TV, too. Polls close at 8 p.m. in Massachusetts and 9 p.m. in Rhode Island, but I’ll have election updates throughout the day. (Find your polling place here.)

If you’ve just started reading this blog during the campaign, I hope you’ll add Nesi’s Notes to your bookmarks and keep coming back after the results are in. I’m going to be covering the new administration – whether it’s Governor Chafee, Caprio or Robitaille – the local media, Rhode Island’s troubled economy and more. If you’re a Google Reader or NetNewsWire fan, here’s the URL for my RSS feed. If you’re into tweeting, here’s my Twitter feed. If you want me to come to your house and read each post aloud to you by the fireside, I will consider it.


Caprio turns contrite on Shoveitgate

October 30th, 2010 at 8:01 pm by under General Talk

Nearly a week after Frank Caprio told President Obama he could “take his endorsement and really shove it” – and on the eve of a campaign appearance by former president Bill Clinton – the embattled Democratic nominee for governor has offered a new and longer mea culpa.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters Saturday, Caprio said he has “had a lot of time to reflect on my words and I understand the criticism.” Caprio said he respects Obama’s decision not to get involved in the race due to the president’s friendship with Lincoln Chafee, while acknowledging he was surprised when he first learned of the White House’s decision.

“I wish I had chosen different language, but now the focus has to be on what is important to Rhode Islanders,” he said. (WRNI’s Ian Donnis has the full statement.)

At our debate and other forums this week, Caprio had appeared to embrace the controversy. “If it takes telling someone to ‘shove it,’ I am going to tell them to shove it, because I am going to fight for Rhode Islanders every day up at that State House,” he said Tuesday. But as he falls further behind Lincoln Chafee in public opinion polls with just two days before the election, it’s clear the Caprio campaign has decided Shoveitgate is not a positive for them.

Unfortunately for Caprio, it may be too late for him to right the ship between now and Tuesday. (Ian reports that the state’s most prominent Democrats aren’t even going to attend tomorrow’s Clinton rally.) If that’s the case, Republican John Robitaille will need a massive groundswell of support to defeat Chafee on Tuesday – otherwise, the independent ex-Republican stands a good chance of becoming Rhode Island’s next governor.

But as the politicians always remind us, the only poll that really matters will happen Tuesday. Stay tuned.


Cook ups Bielat’s chances of beating Barney Frank

October 29th, 2010 at 10:42 am by under General Talk

Frank and Bielat at an Oct. 11 debate

The Cook Political Report, the influential forecasting firm in Washington, D.C., released new ratings on competitive open U.S. House seats Thursday – and for the second time this month, Cook has upgraded Republican Sean Bielat’s chances of defeating Democrat Barney Frank in his bid for a 16th term representing Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District in Congress.

David Wasserman, Cook’s House editor, switched his rating on MA-4 from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democratic” – the same rating he has on the RI-1 race between David Cicilline and John Loughlin.

That means the Frank-Bielat contest is among those “considered competitive races but [where] one party has an advantage,” whereas before Wasserman just thought it could become competitive but hadn’t yet.

In short, Bielat has turned what could have been another waltz to re-election for Frank into a truly competitive race. Our WPRI 12 poll earlier this month showed Frank at 49% and Bielat at 37%, with 12% of voters still undecided.

Bielat was actually just here in our studios taping a half-hour appearance on “Newsmakers” that will air this weekend. The program was supposed to be a debate between Bielat and Frank, but the Democrat backed out. The interview with Bielat will be shown Saturday night in prime time.

I’ve asked the folks at Cook for a copy of Wasserman’s analysis on the Frank-Bielat race, and I’ll update this once I receive it.

Update: Taking a closer look at Cook’s new chart of competitive House races, it’s worth noting that Frank’s seat is the most heavily Democratic one the party could lose next Tuesday. Its Partisan Voting Index, or PVI – which measures how strongly a district leans toward one party – is “D+14,” meaning Democrats usually do 14 points better there than they do nationwide. Patrick Kennedy’s seat is next, with a “D+13″ PVI.

I could do a whole day’s worth of posts about why Southeastern New England has suddenly become an unexpected battleground for Democrats, but for now I’ll just point out that the area’s unemployment problem is worse than anywhere else in New England outside of Maine. That can’t help incumbents.

Update #2: Here’s Cook editor David Wasserman’s full write-up on why he upgraded Bielat’s chances against Frank:

Very few 30-year incumbents release a poll one day showing them leading 56% to 37%, then take $200,000 out of their retirement plan to fund their race. Then again, very few incumbents are Barney Frank. Multiple media polls taken since then have shown the Financial Services chairman under 50%, including a Boston Globe survey showing Frank leading Marine Corps Reservist Sean Bielat 46% to 33%, with a high number of undecided independents. That makes some sense after Frank has endured a rough spate of press, including his camera-wielding partner’s awkward confrontation of Bielat.

Bielat has raised an astounding $600,000 in the first two weeks of October (more than his campaign had raised the whole year prior). Obviously the cash is mostly flooding in from outside the district, but it means Bielat has the resources to play David versus Frank’s Goliath on the airwaves in the final week. One ad set to steel drums intones, “While you were worried about your job or mortgage, Barney Frank was on his way to the islands on a private jet owned by a Wall Street fat cat who got millions in bailouts.” This is an extremely Democratic district, and Frank is still the favorite, but it’s a race.

As always, thank you to Cook for sharing it with me.

Update #3: WRNI’s Ian Donnis notes an interesting piece by Republican strategist Todd Domke, who compares Bielat’s candidacy this year to Rhode Island Republican Ronald Machtley’s successful 1988 campaign against veteran Democratic Congressman Fernand St. Germain. (Machtley, who was succeeded by Patrick Kennedy in 1995, is now president of Bryant University.)


New polls, the car tax and jobs, oh my

October 29th, 2010 at 10:11 am by under General Talk

Thursday was quite a busy day here at Channel 12, and it looks like today will be no different, so blogging may be light again on this second-to-last business day before the election. In the meantime, here’s a wrap-up of yesterday’s big stories:

Chafee leads for governor. The independent candidate has opened the first clear lead anyone has had this year in the gubernatorial contest while Caprio is fading fast, according to our new WPRI 12 poll out yesterday. The survey showed Chafee at 33%, Caprio and Robitaille tied at 26% and Block at 4%, with 11% undecided. Here’s my full story on WPRI.com with insight from our political analyst Joe Fleming.

Roberts, Kilmartin on top. Though not by much in the lieutenant governor’s case – incumbent Elizabeth Roberts’ lead over independent Bob Healey, who wants to get rid of the LG’s office, is down to just seven points. Democrat Peter Kilmartin has a 14-point advantage for attorney general in a splintered field of candidates. Here’s my full WPRI.com story on those races, again featuring Joe Fleming.

More polls on the way. WPRI will release more results from our exclusive poll this evening. At 5 p.m., we’ll let you know which party is leading the generic ballot for the General Assembly and whether voters want to remove “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s name. Then at 6 p.m., we’ll have the latest numbers for the much-watched 1st Congressional District race between David Cicilline and John Loughlin – believe me, you don’t want to miss that one.

No car tax for RIPTA’s GM. Target 12′s Tim White ran an exclusive investigation last night that found the R.I. Public Transit Authority’s longtime general manager, Al Mascola, has never paid car taxes since joining RIPTA in 2000 because he keeps his three vehicles registered in Delaware. You can read Tim’s full report and watch the video here. Along with Tim’s main story, I have a companion WPRI.com piece explaining why the car tax came back and whether it’s going to go away (short answer: probably not).

CVS axing 150 workers in Woonsocket. Finally, a story first reported by WPRI.com (thank you to The Wall Street Journal for crediting us) – CVS Caremark is laying off 300 people nationwide, half of them here at its corporate campus in Woonsocket, less than a week before it reports third-quarter earnings. The state may have stopped the bleeding that’s left it with the same number of jobs as in 1987, but in recent months we’ve still been getting word of large-scale layoffs at big local employers like CVS, Bank of America, Stanley Bostitch and Blue Cross & Blue Shield.


Somebody’s polling the impact of Shoveitgate

October 27th, 2010 at 5:45 pm by under General Talk

Looks like somebody’s doing some polling to see how voters feel about Shoveitgate. Just got this e-mail from a reader:

I received a robo-poll [call] last night at home while watching your debate. They asked two questions:

  1. If you will vote on November 2nd, who is your choice for governor?
  2. Do Frank Caprio’s recent remarks telling President Obama to “shove it” make you more likely or less likely to vote for him?

The robo then informed me that the poll was being conducted by www.publicpolicypolling.com.  So there is at least one poll out in the field already on that question.

Hmmm. Public Policy Polling is a Democratic-leaning firm out of Raleigh, N.C., that uses the same sort of automated calling process as Rasmussen. I wonder who’s paying for it? If you know, fill me in at tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com.

And while we’re here, I’ll take this opportunity to plug yet again that we’ll release the first results from our latest WPRI poll by Joe Fleming tomorrow evening.

Update: On Twitter, Cook Political Report senior editor Jennifer Duffy – a Rhode Island native herself – suggests Public Policy Polling may be doing this poll on its own, as firms often do for the free publicity. “They know the media will cover them so it’s worth the $500,” she writes. (I sure would!) Looks like PPP turns their results around pretty quickly, so perhaps we’ll hear what they found soon.


New report shows Caprio with most money left

October 27th, 2010 at 4:24 pm by under General Talk

The Projo’s Kathy Gregg has the numbers showing how much money the four main gubernatorial candidates had left in their campaign war chests as of Monday. Here are the numbers filed with the Board of Elections:

  • Caprio: $326,461
  • Chafee: $126,100
  • Block: $27,546
  • Robitaille: $16,421

There are lots of additional details in Gregg’s story. Keep in mind that any of the candidates – read: Chafee – could decide to pour more of his own money into the race (or tap his donors again) with five full days left before voters go to the polls. Caprio and Robitaille will also benefit from whatever money their respective parties decide to spend on each man’s behalf.


Gov debate draws big ratings once again

October 27th, 2010 at 2:37 pm by under General Talk

The overnight ratings are in, and last night’s gubernatorial debate here on WPRI drew even bigger numbers the the top-rated one we held Oct. 6.

The 60-minute televised portion of the debate was again the #1 program in the Providence market from 7 to 8 p.m., this time drawing in more than 60,000 viewers to set another record for a TV debate audience this cycle, according to Nielsen. And once again a lot of people streamed the debate live here on WPRI.com, particularly the extra 30 minutes that were only shown online.

Now we’re gearing up to release the results of our latest WPRI poll by Fleming & Associates. That will begin during tomorrow’s evening newscasts.


Memo: Rasmussen understating Robitaille’s chances

October 27th, 2010 at 1:19 pm by under General Talk

Rasmussen's results since February

John Robitaille’s outside advisers think Rasmussen’s Friday poll understated how much support the Republican candidate for governor is likely to get when voters go to the polls on Tuesday, according to an internal campaign memo obtained by WPRI.com.

Rasmussen’s survey, made up of 750 likely voters, had Chafee at 35%, Caprio at 28% and Robitaille at 25%.

But the survey sample was made up of 55% Democrats, 32% independents and 13% Republicans, making it “heavily weighted towards Democrats,” Profile Strategy Group, Robitaille’s New Hampshire-based consulting firm, argued in the memo.

The consultants said that if the poll had been weighted to reflect Rhode Island’s actual voter registration numbers, it would have shown Chafee at 33%, Robitaille at 28% and Caprio in third place at 25%. The strategists also pointed out that national surveys show Republicans and independents more enthusiastic than Democrats about casting ballots next week, which could also tilt the electorate in Robitaille’s favor.

It’s a somewhat surprising argument, since Rasmussen’s polls are frequently described as being friendly to Republicans, but certainly interesting. As I discussed when our last WPRI poll by Fleming & Associates came out, conducting accurate surveys is an art as much as a science, so there’s always room for debate once they get released.

The memo also pointed out that Rasmussen’s poll showed Robitaille winning independents and put his unfavorable rating at 40%, lower than Chafee’s 50% and Caprio’s 48%, whereas all three have nearly identical favorable ratings (49% for Caprio and Robitaille, and 48% for Chafee).

Bottom line? Profile Strategy Group thinks a higher-than-usual turnout among Republicans and independents would put Robitaille “within the margin of error of Chafee.” They counseled him to emphasize his message of bringing back jobs and countering the Democratic-dominated General Assembly to position him as the anti-Chafee choice.

All this should just whet our appetites for tomorrow evening, when WPRI will release the results from our final poll of the campaign. I’ll have full coverage right here on WPRI.com starting at 6 p.m.


Frank Caprio faces a firing squad in final debate

October 26th, 2010 at 9:27 pm by under General Talk

Polls show Lincoln Chafee is the front runner in the race to be Rhode Island’s next governor. But you’d never have guessed that watching tonight’s WPRI gubernatorial debate, as Frank Caprio faced a concerted assault from all sides.

It was inevitable Caprio would face tough questions in the wake of Shoveitgate, but I was surprised by how much Republican John Robitaille – along with independent Lincoln Chafee and Moderate Ken Block – trained their fire on the Democratic nominee.

Robitaille – who gave a feisty and effective performance – was particularly scathing, chastising Caprio for Shoveitgate like a father to a son: “You’re not acting like a governor, Frank.” Later, when Caprio compared the investment return of Rhode Island’s pension fund favorably with those of other states’, Robitaille said it was “like saying the S. S. Minnow isn’t sinking as fast as the Titanic.”

Robitaille has been gaining in the polls over the past two weeks or so, according to both Rasmussen and internal campaign surveys, and if he wants to overtake Caprio to challenge Chafee he needs to win over the moderates and center-right voters who are still with the Democrat right now. He certainly did his best to make that happen tonight.

That dynamic left Caprio on the defensive, a tough place to be in a four-man debate. (Think of how different tonight might have gone if it had been just Caprio and Robitaille, or Caprio and Chafee.) All three of his opponents took shots at him during the first 20 minutes – even Block’s answer about suing the EDC included a swipe at the Democrat.

Caprio did his best and didn’t lose his cool. For me, the high point for Caprio was the poignant moment when he described his greatest regret as not spending enough time with the daughter he fathered as a teenager. For a candidate who has seemed almost robotic on the trail, it was a rare glimpse of the man behind the talk of jobs and kitchen tables.

What then of the front runner, Chafee? At times, Chafee almost seemed to be staying above the fray tonight – again, a surprising development with polls showing him out in front. Once again he cast himself as the optimistic candidate, emphasizing Rhode Island’s natural and manmade assets and the need for economic growth.

But Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming told me after the debate he thought Chafee gave a markedly weaker performance than he did at our previous one at Roger Williams University. Chafee never offered up a regret when asked, for example, and sometimes meandered.

Ken Block was – well, Ken Block. He offered up enough one-liners and zingers to fill a Bob Hope Christmas special. He also emphasized his business and IT bona fides. But there were times he came off as a bit of a scold. “Oh my word,” he told Chafee at one point, “you’re not listening very well, are you?” Right now, Block’s main goal has to be ensuring he gets at least the 5% support needed to keep the Moderate Party a registered organization – which he should be able to do.

A few other quick thoughts:

• Caprio is now turning “shove it!” into his new campaign slogan. “If it takes telling someone to ‘shove it,’ I am going to tell them to shove it, because I am going to fight for Rhode Islanders every day up at that State House,” he said. Yes, we can!

• Robitaille bounced back and forth between conciliatory – pointing to his knowledge of labor relations to show he can work effectively with unions and praising Rhode Island Housing – and critical; he said he’d give the General Assembly “an ‘F’ – and that’s charitable,” adding that the Democratic-dominated legislature has “ruined the state” over the last 70 years. (Dems have held one or both chambers since 1941.)

• Chafee was a little retro tonight, mentioning both black-and-white TVs and Charles Dickens in his answers. He also used the Gettysburg Address for his sound check.

• On 38 Studios, Chafee pointed back to the highly critical Verrecchia report to explain why he is thinking about suing the EDC board – even though the current board was put in place specifically to deal with the problems identified in the Verrecchia report. (Verrecchia himself is on the EDC board now.) Later, Caprio said he would march down to the EDC next Wednesday if he gets elected to deal with the $75 million bond transaction if it still hasn’t closed – which is entirely plausible at the pace things are going. What would he say once he got there? And how would Keith Stokes respond?

• Frank Caprio’s campaign is glad to have Bill Clinton coming back to Rhode Island on Sunday to campaign for their man two days before the election. An aide told me it was in the works long before Shoveitgate, though the same person acknowledged he’ll have trouble getting people to believe that.

• Until the last week or two, Lincoln Chafee’s proposal to levy a 1% sales tax on exempt items had been the issue of the gubernatorial campaign. Tonight, it didn’t come up until 27 minutes in, and even then it wasn’t mentioned nearly as often as before. Any time Chafee isn’t talking about raising Rhode Islanders’ taxes is probably a positive for him.

• Gov. Donald Carcieri – remember him? – attended the debate in person, sitting with Robitaille’s campaign staff a few rows back from the front. Alas, he was too far away for me to see his reactions – but administration sources have made it clear he’s watching this campaign with great interest. Robitaille, for his part, loyally defended the outgoing governor – his former boss – while noting their different backgrounds (but not beliefs).

• No surprise that once again my pal Tim White acquitted himself well in the moderator’s job. By my count, this was Tim’s 2,743rd debate of this election cycle (and his last, except for Sean Bielat’s solo turn on Friday). Good questions from The Providence Journal’s Team of Eds – Fitzpatrick and Achorn – as well.

• Chafee had a line that I found funny, whether he meant it to be or not. Asked to grade the General Assembly, he said: “I’m not going to grade them, because I have to work with them.” Well, I assume if he was going to give them an A+ ahead of working with them, he probably would have said it.

• Caprio and Chafee had a nice moment after Chafee couldn’t come up with a regret but praised Caprio’s statement; Caprio turned to shake his hand, smiling broadly.

• Chafee is making a big play for Hispanic votes in these waning days of the campaign. He launched a Spanish-language website today, and said during the debate his first priority as governor would be getting rid of E-Verify. He got the endorsement of Providence en Español, too.

• Frank Caprio said his favorite book is “Lord of the Rings.” Who knew?

As I write this, it’s just past 9 p.m. on Tuesday night. One week from now, the polls will be closed and officials will be tabulating the votes to find out who Rhode Island’s next governor will be. WPRI will release our final poll of the campaign on Thursday evening, and I’ll be covering the last days right here on Nesi’s Notes. Then next Tuesday night, I’ll be here live blogging the results for WPRI.com as they come in – and of course we’ll have full coverage on TV, too.

In the meantime, one complaint we political reporters often hear is that there’s too much focus on the horse race, rather than substance, in the late stages of a campaign. With that in mind, I want to hear your questions about policies. What do you want to know about the gubernatorial candidates’ positions? Let me know at tnesi (at) wpri (dot) com and I will do my best to ferret out the answers.


Why tonight’s gubernatorial debate will be pivotal

October 26th, 2010 at 4:45 pm by under General Talk

the podiums are in place at PPAC

The four men vying to become Rhode Island’s next governor – Moderate Ken Block, Democrat Frank Caprio, independent Lincoln Chafee and Republican John Robitaille – will meet tonight for our final televised debate of the fall campaign. And it promises to be a doozy.

The debate will air right here on WPRI.com from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and the first hour will be shown commercial-free on WPRI 12, as well. Once again, Tim White will be moderating with an assist from two Projo columnists, and I’ll be live-tweeting next to our WPRI.com debate stream via my Twitter feed. (And don’t worry Celtics fans, I’ll keep you posted about the opener while you do your civic duty.)

In the wake of Shoveitgate and Rasmussen’s Friday poll – and with just one week left before voters cast their ballots – this may be the most important debate of the race. I would be astonished if it stayed as sedate as the last encounter between the quartet on our airwaves just two weeks ago – if Frank Caprio and John Robitaille want to win, they can’t let that happen.

I’m particularly interested in Caprio’s strategy tonight as he fights a two-front war, trying to cut into Chafee’s support on the center-left while beating back Robitaille’s surge from the center-right. Here’s the long view of the contest’s dynamic, as captured by Rasmussen in its nine surveys since February (Ken Block was not always included):

Remember, too, that in a race with three strong contenders, it only takes a small share of the vote – say, 35% to 38% – to emerge as the victor and the next governor of Rhode Island. With Caprio and Robitaille splitting the anti-Chafee vote, Chafee can win if he holds onto the base of support he’s built up. That’s the reason Caprio’s people allegedly tried to get Robitaille to drop out of the race.

After the debate, I’ll post my impressions here on the blog – you can share your own in the comments – and we’ll have full coverage on TV at 10 and 11 and on WPRI.com. We’ll get a fuller picture of where things stand two days from now, when we release our latest WPRI poll by Fleming & Associates on Thursday evening.

(image credit: Josh Davis/WPRI)


Exclusive: Caprio campaign hits back at Axelrod

October 26th, 2010 at 11:32 am by under General Talk

David Axelrod, left, with Obama

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)


Shoveitgate: Caprio and Meredith V., NY Post and more

October 26th, 2010 at 10:48 am by under General Talk

Frank Caprio spoke with Meredith Vieira this morning and stuck by his decision to tell President Obama to “take his endorsement and really shove it,” although he also said he has “the highest respect” for the president. Here’s the video.

The New York Post slapped the story on its front page:

Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod appeared on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” this morning and reportedly gave a different version of what happened between the White House and the Caprio campaign than we’ve heard from Caprio’s people. Here’s the video of that interview, which the network just posted. (What’s up with MSNBC.com videos not embedding correctly?)

On Anchor Rising, Justin Katz offers an analysis that mirrors both Joe Fleming’s and my own – that Shoveitgate represented “a calculated move to shore up the right-of-center voters whom Caprio courted thoroughly and effectively right up to the Democrat primary.” If Justin’s center-right commenters are any indication, the move didn’t do much good.

Apparently, WPRO’s John DePetro called the flap “the shove heard ’round the world” this morning. I’m sticking with Shoveitgate.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports Chafee has loaned his campaign another $500,000, bringing his personal investment in the race to a whopping $1.6 million. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lay out nearly $2 million when all is said and done.) Chafee also has a new TV ad on the air today featuring none other than President Obama, who references him as “Linc” during a 2008 campaign rally. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is in the ad, too.

All I know is, Shoveitgate has gotten me even more excited about tonight’s WPRI/Projo debate between the four gubernatorial candidates – our last televised debate of the campaign. I may be biased, but I don’t see how anyone can argue tonight’s encounter won’t be pivotal – Caprio is slipping, Robitaille is gaining, and Chafee is trying to capture and hold the roughly 35% of the electorate he’ll need to win. (Moderate Ken Block will be there, too.) The debate will be held at 7 p.m. at PPAC, and you can still order free tickets here if you’d like to attend in person. I’ll be live-tweeting right here on WPRI.com.

Then on Thursday night, WPRI will release our final poll before the election, conducted by our well-respected pollster Joe Fleming of Fleming & Associates. I’ll be watching to see whether it mirrors the findings of last week’s Rasmussen survey, which showed Chafee on top and Robitaille nearly tied with Caprio.

And one week from now, the most important poll of all – Election Day.


President Obama speaking at the RI Convention Center

October 25th, 2010 at 6:48 pm by under General Talk

Two nice photos taken by Tim White, who was inside for the president’s remarks. You can read about what Obama said by scrolling through Tim’s Twitter feed and watching our newscasts tonight at 10 and 11. We’ll also have more coverage on WPRI.com. The president is heading to a $7,500-a-plate fundraiser on Providence’s East Side before Air Force One’s scheduled departure at 8:20.


Guess who’s the only local TV reporter with Obama?

October 25th, 2010 at 4:45 pm by under General Talk

Answer: None other than my partner-in-crime Tim White.

That’s right: Tim will be inside the Rhode Island Convention Center – and live tweeting for our enjoyment – when the president delivers his remarks at a $500-a-plate fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sometime after 5 p.m. We’ll also have the live video feed here on WPRI.com and full coverage on our newscasts.

One person who won’t be there: Frank Caprio. The Democratic nominee’s spokesman says he won’t be attending any of the president’s events today. Can’t imagine why. Here are some more updates about Obama’s visit:

• R.I. Democratic Party Chair Ed Pacheco accentuated the positive just after Obama’s plane touched down at 3:49. “We are thrilled and excited to have the President of the United States in Rhode Island and proud to have his support for the Ocean State,” Pacheco said in a brief statement that name-checked congressional candidates Jim Langevin and David Cicilline twice.

• WRNI’s Scott MacKay notes that White House spokesman Bill Burton elaborated during the flight to Warwick on Obama’s failure to endorse Caprio. The president is staying out of the governor’s race “out of respect for his friend Lincoln Chafee,” Burton said.

• Well-heeled local Democrats attending the president’s $500-a-plate and $7,500-a-plate fundraisers aren’t the only ones hearing from him today. One of my colleagues’ wives received a recorded phone call from Obama earlier this afternoon encouraging her to get to the polls next Tuesday. “There’s too much at stake in this election for you to sit on the sidelines,” he said. No candidates got a mention, and half the 30-second message was taken up by disclaimers from the Democratic National Committee saying who paid for it.

Shoveitgate is starting to feel like a really bad family holiday gathering – everybody squabbling, alliances shifting, and a couple weak attempts at bringing everyone back together. All they need to do is serve turkey and pumpkin pie at tonight’s fundraisers and the scene would be complete.

• Air Force One is scheduled to depart T.F. Green at 8:20 p.m. to whisk Obama back to Washington.

Update: The view from inside the Rhode Island Convention Center, where Obama will speak at a fundraiser not too long from now, courtesy Tim White:

Update #2: Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming spoke with Karen Adams on the air a few minutes ago, and his take on Shoveitgate largely mirrored mine – this was probably a calculated attempt by Frank Caprio to steal the limelight on the day of the president’s visit, and to the extent that Caprio has dominated (or at least shared) today’s headlines, it largely worked. Fleming also pointed out that with Caprio losing ground to Republican John Robitaille in last week’s Rasmussen poll, he needs to stop the bleeding and find ways to target independents and center-right voters; ergo, attack Obama.

Still, it’s possible to win the battle and lose the war. And at this point, the race between Caprio, Chafee and Robitaille is trench warfare – barring a major new development, one of them is going to win with the support of somewhere around 35% of the electorate on Nov. 2. Did Caprio’s comments today do anything that will help him win over the moderate and center-right voters he needs to break away from Robitaille and overtake Chafee?

Update #3: The president’s motorcade left Woonsocket for his two fundraisers at 5:13, according to the press pool report. Obama is headed first to the Rhode Island Convention Center – where Tim White is on the scene and ready to tweet – and then the Chace household on the East Side. The road is blocked off by RIPTA buses, and Republican John Loughlin has some supporters there holding signs.

Here’s a photo of the Secret Service scanning guests arriving at the Chace home about 20 minutes ago, courtesy my colleague Rebecca Johnson:

Update #4: Wow, there sure are a lot of campaign ads on tonight’s newscast. In the last few minutes I’ve seen Raimondo, King, Langevin, Mollis, Taylor, Caprio, Chafee and Robitaille.

Update #5: President Obama will be back in New England later this week, The Associated Press reports. He will travel to Bridgeport, Conn., to support candidates up and down the ballot in the Nutmeg State.


Good news for Robitaille – RGA ad starts Tuesday

October 25th, 2010 at 3:47 pm by under General Talk

Here’s some good news for the John Robitaille campaign, which is feeling good as internal polling shows him on the rise and Shoveitgate dominates the headlines during today’s Obama visit. The Republican Governors Association’s commercial supporting him will begin running on WPRI and Fox Providence tomorrow after last Friday’s snafu. Not sure about the other two stations, but presumably everyone has it now.


Caprio’s got a seat at Obama’s Woonsocket event

October 25th, 2010 at 2:15 pm by under General Talk

Air Force One is scheduled to land at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick at 3:55 p.m. Monday, depositing President Obama in Rhode Island for a brief four-and-a-half-hour visit here. The presidential plane is supposed to depart T.F. Green to return to Washington at 8:20 p.m. – though Democrats and presidents are known for running late, so we’ll see whether Obama actually makes it out on time.

The president will visit American Cord & Webbing Co., a manufacturer in Woonsocket, for a public event at 5 p.m. The company got approved for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan last month, and it plans to use the financing to expand from 30,000 square feet to 43,000 square feet, according to the White House. The company was founded nearly a century ago and currently has about 60 employees, according to the EDC.

From there, Obama will head to two fundraisers – a $500-a-plate reception at the Rhode Island Convention Center and then a more intimate $7,500-a-plate dinner at the East Side home of developer Arnold “Buff” Chace Jr. and his wife, Johnnie. Both will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports the campaigns of U.S. House candidates including David Cicilline and Jim Langevin.

My WPRI colleague Danielle North is in Woonsocket, and she sent along this photo of Frank Caprio’s chair in the reserved section at American Cord & Webbing Co. After Shoveitgate, will he be there to sit in it? I wonder what his seatmate Secretary of State Ralph Mollis will whisper in his ear.


Wayland Sq. locked down; Politico tackles Shoveitgate

October 25th, 2010 at 1:09 pm by under General Talk

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, tells me that when he drove through Wayland Square at 8:30 a.m. on his way to work this morning, all the parking was already blocked off (presumably by Secret Service) from Waterman Street left onto Wayland and up to the Chace house.

“It looks like they’re getting ready for a blizzard,” he quipped.

Meanwhile Politico, the voice of the inside-the-Beltway political class, has a Jonathan Allen story up taking a look at Shoveitgate in the context of national divisions among Democrats ahead of next week’s expected electoral bloodbath for the party:

There had been behind-the-scenes activity to try to get the president to endorse Caprio — or at least appear with him while in Rhode Island.

But Obama, who won a cross-party endorsement from Chafee in the 2008 presidential campaign, has made clear he doesn’t intend to put his thumb on the scale for Caprio in one of the few states where his endorsement might benefit a Democrat this year.

“This is disappointing. Frank Caprio has spent his career fighting for the values of the Democratic Party, and I think he deserves the full support of our party and its leaders,” said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. …

Caprio and the DGA asked Obama to move tonight’s Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser from the home of a Chafee supporter out of concern that it might be read as a blessing of Chafee. But the White House turned down the request and rebuffed subsequent efforts to get Caprio a joint appearance with the president. …

“If the White House wants to know why Democrats won’t come out for them look no farther than the fact that even the president won’t come out for Democrats,” said a source who is involved in several gubernatorial races. “It’s bad enough that the White House failures have dug a hole so big for the Democratic Party that Chilean miners would be envious, now they’re choosing not to endorse Democrats. Are they living on this planet?”

Two sources familiar with Rhode Island politics told POLITICO that Chafee is benefiting from his 2008 endorsement of Obama’s presidential bid and Caprio’s suffering for having been in Hillary Clinton’s camp in the primary that year. Caprio hasn’t even been invited to join Obama at public events, sources said.

“My understanding is that Obama is not looking to endorse Caprio and by including him in any events would give that indication or force him to actually say where he stands on that issue,” one source told POLITICO. “I have also heard that Caprio is upset that the DCCC did it’s big Rhode Island event at the home of a family who are very vocal and active supporters of Chafee. In many circles in Rhode Island, Chafee is seen as more of a Dem and a progressive than Caprio, who people often joke is a Republican in Democrats’ clothing.”

Interesting to see the shadow of the 2008 presidential primary falling over this race. One reason Bill Clinton came here over the summer to campaign for Caprio is because the Caprios were loyal Hillary supporters in her losing battle with Obama. Clinton’s visit gave the Caprio campaign the video they’ve used for their effective Clinton TV advertisement. But now Chafee is benefiting (or at least preventing Caprio from benefiting) because he picked the right horse in 2008.

For the record, the house in question is the Orchard Avenue home of developer Arnold “Buff” Chace Jr. and his wife, Johnnie. The pair have donated to Chafee, Joe Fernandez, Josh Miller, Gina Raimondo, Elizabeth Roberts and Angel Taveras – among others – this election cycle, according to campaign finance reports.

Update: Although Politico calls Lincoln Chafee’s 2008 support for Barack Obama “a cross-party endorsement,” technically that’s not quite accurate. Chafee left the Republican Party in mid-2007, months before he gave Obama his endorsement in February 2008. That’s just a detail, though – the Obama campaign pointed to Chafee’s support as an example of their man’s ability to win support from across party lines.

And now that I look, I see Chafee actually endorsed Obama on Valentine’s Day. How sweet!

(image credit: Pete Souza/White House)


Shoveitgate – why Frank Caprio whacked Obama

October 25th, 2010 at 9:17 am by under General Talk

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 Projo.com 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.


Watch the two treasurer candidates debate

October 23rd, 2010 at 3:38 pm by under General Talk

A special edition of “Newsmakers” this week features a commercial-free debate between the two candidates running to succeed Frank Caprio as Rhode Island’s general treasurer: Republican Kerry King and Democrat Gina Raimondo.

The pair tackle issues including political transparency, the state pension system, property taxes and the budget deficit. Tim White moderates and “Newsmakers” regulars Ian Donnis and Arlene Violet are on hand to ask questions.

You can watch the whole debate on TV on WPRI 12 tonight (Saturday) at 7:30 p.m. or during the program’s regular Sunday time slots: 5:30 a.m. on WPRI and 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Or you can watch it now right here on WPRI.com.

And while we’re on the subject of debates, don’t forget that the four gubernatorial candidates will meet for WPRI’s final televised debate of the campaign this Tuesday night at 7 p.m. – it will be held at PPAC, and you can order free tickets online if you’d like to attend in person. Or you can watch at home and enjoy my patented live-tweeting.


Robitaille nears Caprio in new Rasmussen poll

October 22nd, 2010 at 5:09 pm by under News and Politics, Poll Results

New: RGA’s Robitaille buy down the drain after it misses deadline to deliver ad

Rasmussen is out with a new survey of 750 likely voters about the Rhode Island governor’s race, conducted on Oct. 21. Margin of error is plus or minus 4 points. Here are the results:

  • Lincoln Chafee: 35%
  • Frank Caprio: 28%
  • John Robitaille: 25%
  • Ken Block: 6%
  • Not sure: 6%

The big headline is how close Democrat Frank Caprio and Republican John Robitaille are compared with Rasmussen’s previous survey on Oct. 4 – more good news for the Republican after yesterday’s announcement that the national G.O.P. is going to invest in his campaign. This is the first time Rasmussen has had Caprio under 30% since March. Chafee’s two-point gain is within the margin of error, and Robitaille is back where he was in May. Undecideds are steadily shrinking in number.

Here’s an updated version of my chart tracking Rasmussen’s results since it started polling the race in February (Block isn’t in here because Rasmussen only started including him recently):

The growing support for Robitaille helps explain why Caprio is going after him in a new mailing, as The Associated Press’ Eric Tucker reported earlier today:

The front of the mailing includes photos of Robitaille and the Statehouse and carries the headline, “John Robitaille is not ready to manage Rhode Island’s budget crisis.” It includes a quote from an August newspaper article in which Robitaille, while discussing his intention to surround himself with smart advisers, said, “I am not a budget guru.”

Robitaille campaign manager Mike Napolitano called the mailing ridiculous and said the quotes were taken out of context.

“I think it shows that they’re afraid of us,” he said, later adding that the campaign planned no negative ads of its own between now and the Nov. 2 election.

Today’s Rasmussen survey is the first new independent poll on the governor’s race we’ve gotten in two weeks, but it won’t be the last before voters cast their ballots. WPRI will release another poll conducted by Fleming & Associates between now and Nov. 2.

The gubernatorial candidates will meet for our last televised debate of the campaign next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. – it will be held at PPAC, and you can order free tickets here if you’d like to attend in person. Or you can watch at home and enjoy my patented live-tweeting.

Update: No surprise, Robitaille spokesman Mike Napolitano was in a good mood when I called him to ask about the new Rasmussen survey.

“We think it’s great,” Napolitano said. “We’re three points behind Caprio and it’s 6% undecided. And with all the money they’ve spent – especially all the money Caprio’s spent – he’s actually gone down. So obviously John’s positive message is resonating with voters.”

“This is an extremely close race,” he added. No argument there from me.

Update #2: The Block campaign will be glad to see its candidate above the 5% threshold required for the Moderate Party to stay on the ballot going forward.


Barney Frank up by 12 points in new WPRI poll

October 21st, 2010 at 6:00 pm by under News and Politics

Republican Sean Bielat is giving 15-term U.S. Rep. Barney Frank his most competitive reelection race in years, according to our new WPRI 12 poll being released on air right now. The survey of 400 likely voters in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District was conducted Oct. 14 to 17 by Fleming & Associates. The margin of error is plus or minus 5%. Here are the key numbers:

  • Frank: 49%
  • Bielat: 37%
  • Not sure: 12%

There’s much more in my full story over on WPRI.com, including insight from Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming and a look at which groups of voters are learning toward Frank and which ones are going for Bielat. You can also find out how voters feel about President Obama, Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry, and the financial crisis.

And if you missed it earlier, check out my earlier posts about Frank’s new campaign spending numbers, why we did the poll, and whether this is really a race.


Republican Governors Association buys Robitaille ads

October 21st, 2010 at 4:32 pm by under News and Politics

The Republican Governors Association is making a big investment in Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille’s campaign less than two weeks before voters go to the polls – a sign the national G.O.P. thinks the former Carcieri aide has a chance to pull off an upset victory over Frank Caprio and Lincoln Chafee.

The RGA placed an order this morning for $175,240 worth of television advertising time on WPRI-TV and WNAC-TV, my colleagues in our advertising department told me when I checked a little while ago.

That’s a sizable chunk of change, and assuming the RGA is spending similar amounts at the other local stations (adjusted for our respective ratings shares), it indicates WRNI reporter Scott MacKay may have been on the money when he reported earlier today that the RGA will spend around $500,000 on Robitaille’s behalf.

The Democratic Governors Association has been very active in support of Frank Caprio, spending about $541,000 this month alone on TV ads attacking Chafee. And the spending by the two party organizations is on top of all the money the campaigns themselves are putting out.

Robitaille has trailed Chafee and Caprio in the polls all year, but recent surveys have shown him consistently winning the support of 20% to 25% of voters. With about 10% still undecided and the two front-runners both stuck around 30% to 33% – and waging an increasingly nasty campaign – there is clearly an opportunity for Robitaille to emerge as a third option for voters unhappy with Chafee and Caprio.

One way Robitaille could accomplish that would be with a strong performance in our final televised gubernatorial debate next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. (How’s that for a shameless plug? Tim White, you owe me $10.)

Just another sign this contest is going to go down to the wire.

Update: I just got off the phone with Mike Napolitano, Robitaille’s spokesman. The campaigns aren’t allowed to coordinate with the governors associations, so he said my call was the first confirmation he’d received that the RGA was buying ads on his candidate’s behalf.

“I think this shows they feel John Robitaille will win this race,” Napolitano said. He said a growing number of voters are telling Robitaille that “they’re fed up with the other two” because of all the negative campaigning Caprio and Chafee are engaging in.

As for the Robitaille campaign? “We are going to continue to stay focused on John’s message, and we are going to continue to keep our campaign positive,” he said. “The message is lower taxes, get government out of the way, and provide more jobs.”

Update #2: The Caprio campaign says the RGA has booked about $411,000 worth of ads for next week, according to The Associated Press.


Get ready to pay more at the grocery store

October 21st, 2010 at 12:48 pm by under News and Politics

The other night I complained that David Cicilline and John Loughlin were pandering to elderly voters by supporting increases in Social Security benefits even though the government’s measure of the cost of living has not risen since the last increase in 2009.

As The Associated Press explained on Friday, the reason there was no automatic increase this year and won’t be one next year is because high energy prices in 2008 led to a huge 5.8% increase in Social Security benefits at the start of 2009 – even though gas prices had long since fallen from the prior summer’s $4-a-gallon record highs:

“They received a nearly 6 percent COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] for inflation that no longer really existed,” said Andrew Biggs, a former deputy commissioner at the Social Security Administration and now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Seniors aren’t being treated unfairly, here,” Biggs said. “It looks bad, but they’re actually not being treated unfairly.”

By law, the next increase won’t come until consumer prices rise above the level measured in 2008. The trustees who oversee Social Security project that will happen next year, resulting in an estimated 1.2 percent COLA for 2012.

Still, the average person’s perception of inflation is often very different from what official data shows. And either way, a report in today’s Wall Street Journal warns that the rising cost of commodities like grain, cheese, meat and oil mean we may see prices rising at the supermarket in the coming months:

Corn is up 44%, milk is up 6.5%, hot rolled coil steel is up 4%, copper up 29%, and oil up 14% from a year ago. At this point it’s difficult to quantify how broadly these price increases will affect future earnings. The big unknown is not only how much further commodity prices will rise, but how much of that added cost companies will be able to pass along in the form of higher prices. …

Grocery stores have struggled with price deflation in the last few years and had welcomed signs of food inflation as a means of raising profits by passing along the higher prices to consumers. But with intense competition for customers resulting in fierce discounting battles among stores, inflation isn’t as welcome now.

The big chain stores see their costs either already rising or expect them to, and they’re growing nervous about the prospect of passing those higher costs on to price-conscious consumers.

Case in point: [Shaw's Supermarkets parent company] Supervalu Inc. lowered its fiscal 2011 earnings outlook on Tuesday saying it plans to continue cutting the prices it charges for products, even as the prices it is paying for them are rising. Chief Executive Craig Herkert said he received notice by a “major supplier” the day before that “significant increases across the board” were coming.


Barney Frank spending heavily to hold his seat

October 21st, 2010 at 10:35 am by under News and Politics

Frank in the Oval Office last year

With less than eight hours to go before WPRI releases the results of our exclusive 4th District poll, it’s becoming ever clearer how seriously U.S. Rep. Barney Frank is taking the challenge from his Republican opponent Sean Bielat.

Frank’s campaign war chest shrank by 40% in the first two weeks of October, according to his latest campaign finance report, which had to be filed by the end of today. The 14-term Democrat’s cash on hand dropped from about $1.1 million on Sept. 30 to $649,560 on Oct. 13.

The Bielat campaign hasn’t filed its latest financial report as of this writing. The Republican had $364,664 on hand as of Sept. 30. I’ll update when I get his numbers.

As for Frank, he spent $700,000 and raised $268,604 during the first half of this month. All told, he has shelled out $2.7 million during this election cycle to hold onto the seat he first won the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. This also helps explain why Frank said yesterday he is loaning his campaign $200,000.

For my Rhode Island readers, neither of the 1st District candidates – Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin – has filed his campaign finance report as of now. These will be the last spending snapshots we get for federal candidates before voters go to the polls on Nov. 2.

(image credit: White House/Pete Souza)


Absentee ballots drop 22% from four years ago

October 21st, 2010 at 7:00 am by under News and Politics

The hard-fought race for governor may be keeping political junkies on the edge of our seats, but it didn’t lead to high demand for absentee ballots.

The secretary of state’s office tells me Rhode Island voters requested 10,658 mail ballots ahead of last week’s deadline – down 22% from the 13,686 requested in 2006. Spokesman Chris Barnett said “2006 to 2010 is an apples-to-apples comparison because the general offices [governor, lieutenant governor, etc.] are on the ballot” in both years; in 2008, a presidential election year, 21,598 mail ballots were requested.

Why the drop from 2006 to 2010? Barnett declined to speculate, but I can think of a couple potential explanations.

Rhode Island was a U.S. Senate battleground in 2006 – first when Lincoln Chafee faced Steve Laffey in the Republican primary, then when Chafee took on Sheldon Whitehouse in the general – and that race’s publicity combined with Democrats’ anti-Bush enthusiasm may have boosted the number. A more depressing explanation could be that fewer people will be away on business trips or vacations this year because of the weak economy.

Miss the deadline for a mail ballot but can’t make it on Nov. 2? You can still apply for an emergency mail ballot.


Is Barney Frank in trouble? We’re about to find out

October 20th, 2010 at 5:10 pm by under General Talk

Frank and Bielat at an Oct. 11 debate

New: Frank spent $700,000 in two weeks

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, the pugnacious Democrat who’s represented Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District for three decades now, is in the midst of his toughest re-election fight in years against Republican Sean Bielat, a newcomer and former Marine from Brookline. As I mentioned earlier this month, I’m still skeptical about whether Frank will actually go down to defeat – but anything’s possible in 2010, and Frank is taking few chances.

Part of the reason for my skepticism is because we haven’t had any independent polling done on this race – all the gauges of voter sentiment have come from inside the two campaigns, which are not exactly unbiased sources.

Well, that’s about to change.

Tomorrow at 6 p.m., WPRI 12 will release the results of an exclusive survey of 400 likely voters in the 4th District conducted last weekend by our pollster, Joe Fleming. It’s the only independent poll anybody has done in a race that’s getting national attention, and it will give us a clear read on whether Bielat really stands a chance against Frank. We’ll reveal the results simultaneously on TV and online.

We also want to bring both Frank and Bielat into our studios for a televised debate focused on issues of concern to residents of Bristol County, Mass. The 4th District includes 12 communities there, including New Bedford and Taunton, plus part of Fall River. As a Bristol County native myself, I know how ignored the region often feels – when I lived there it seemed like the Boston stations only covered us when somebody got shot, and the Rhode Island stations have to cover a lot of ground across two states.

With that in mind, WPRI GM Jay Howell offered to air a Frank-Bielat debate – specifically for Bristol County voters – in prime time. “Voters in Fall River, New Bedford, Taunton and other area communities deserve the opportunity to watch a televised debate that’s focused on the issues critical to Bristol County,” he said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve been committed to organizing debates in all of the key races this November. There’s still time to make this debate happen, and we are hopeful that Congressman Frank will reconsider his decision and agree to debate Mr. Bielat.”

Originally, both campaigns agreed in principle to come for a debate – but then Frank’s campaign changed its mind, citing scheduling issues. I’m still holding out hope that we’ll make it happen, and I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can look forward to getting the poll results tomorrow at 6 and finding out once and for all where things stand in the 4th District.

(image credit: Associated Press/Steven Senne)


There’s still a race for mayor of Providence, too

October 20th, 2010 at 10:23 am by under News and Politics

Angel Taveras won a smashing victory over his two opponents in the Democratic primary for mayor of Providence last month, and with no Republican candidate – plus the capital city’s liberal tilt – most observers said that was the ballgame.

Still, Taveras has to clear one more hurdle to succeed David Cicilline as mayor by defeating Jonathan Scott, a Republican running as an independent, in the Nov. 2 general election. The race has gotten relatively little attention because of the factors I mentioned before, and Scott has got to be considered the longest of long-shots, but he’s the only person who stepped up to run against the Democratic nominee.

So kudos to Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy, which will host an on-campus debate between Taveras and Scott on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in MacMillan Hall’s Starr Auditorium, which is at the corner of Thayer and George streets. The debate will be moderated by Marion Orr, the Taubman Center’s director, who also does the school’s polling.

And if you’ve forgotten how to say “Taveras,” check out this refresher.

Update: Taveras and Scott will speak for five minutes each at tonight’s annual fall meeting of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association as well, Projo reports. I should also note that last month both men took part in our televised WPRI mayoral debate alongside Taveras’ two opponents for the Democratic nomination.


Counting down until Cicilline, Loughlin debate

October 19th, 2010 at 4:13 pm by under News and Politics

The two men vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy as the congressman from Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District – Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin – will meet tonight for their first televised debate of the campaign. (No, Queen Latifah is not actually a candidate.)

The debate will air right here on WPRI.com from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and the first hour will be televised commercial-free on WPRI 12, as well. But if you watch the debate online, you can also enjoy my oh-so perceptive and pithy live analysis on Twitter right alongside the video. Living legend Tim White is moderating, so a top-notch exchange is assured.

WPRI World Headquarters is starting to empty out as everyone heads to tonight’s venue, the Providence Performing Arts Center. I’ll let you know if I see any Rockettes; for now though, here’s a rather dramatic shot of the stage setup courtesy WPRI promo producer James Bartone, who’s already there:

Our WPRI 12 poll last month showed Cicilline holding a commanding 19-point lead over Loughlin, with the Democrat at 48% and the Republican at 29%, plus 22% of voters still undecided. Cicilline also continues to have a financial advantage over Loughlin, and so far the national Republican Party has been sitting on the sidelines.

Thus, tonight’s debate is a classic October match-up: the front-runner, Cicilline, will be looking to avoid doing anything to damage his lead, while the challenger, Loughlin, needs to shake things up. I expect we’ll be hearing quite a bit about Social Security – do you know your way around the Trust Fund? – and Cicilline’s tenure as mayor of Providence.

So join me right here on WPRI.com at 7 for a rip-roaring 90 minutes of debating, tweeting and high-kicking. That last bit only if I find a Rockette, of course.


Would Chafee really sue the EDC board?

October 19th, 2010 at 12:32 pm by under News and Politics

My jaw dropped during our Oct. 6 gubernatorial debate when Lincoln Chafee suggested he might file suit against Gov. Donald Carcieri for backing the 38 Studios deal: “I guess the best I can advise Governor Carcieri is to pay up on his insurance premiums, because there is an avenue for those aggrieved to come after someone for fiduciary irresponsibility,” Chafee said. “I suppose that is the last recourse, but it’s unfortunate the governor hasn’t listened, and especially in light of the performance of the EDC under his tenure.”

That seemed like an extraordinary statement to me, yet it didn’t garner much attention. Well, Chafee issued a similar threat to members of the EDC board today before an audience of business leaders – and this time he drew gasps, the Projo’s Kathy Gregg reports:

With at least two members of the EDC board sitting in the audience as he spoke, the proposal drew a few audible gasps and at least one “Wow.”

“I am not sure [that] would encourage others to serve, if there is a chill out there about stockholder suits, which is what he referred to,” said EDC board member Paul J. Choquette Jr., vice chairman of construction giant Gilbane Inc. “It doesn’t move the ball forward.”

But “I am not going to comment on who I was going to vote for,” he said. “That’s something I am still deciding.”

Added Hasbro Chairman Alfred J. Verrecchia, who last year led an in-depth review of the EDC that was highly critical of the agency: “I guess I’d ask him is he going to sue us after he asks me to resign or before he asks me to resign.”

The moderator — Chamber of Commerce president and former Carcieri communications director Laurie White — said she, too, was “surprised that Lincoln Chafee raised the issue of fiduciary responsibility of the board. I think we need to get a little bit more clarity on what he meant by that.”