Top RI Dems to miss Caprio’s Clinton event
In a very unusual development, a number of leading Rhode Island Democrats won’t be at Veterans Memorial Auditorium tomorrow afternoon when former president Bill Clinton stumps for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio. The expected no-shows include all four members of the state’s Congressional delegation and Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, who’s locked in an ultra-tight First Congressional District fight with Republican John Loughlin.
The official explanation is that scheduling conflicts preclude top Democrats from attending. But it’s remarkable that Democrats would miss an opportunity to appear with the charismatic Clinton — who remains very popular in Rhode Island — on the eve of an election expected to favor Republicans nationally. Democratic sources, speaking anonymously, acknowledge the situation reflects an intra-party rift inflamed by Caprio’s statement earlier this week that President Obama “can take his endorsement and really shove it as far as I’m concerned.” The remark came after the president declined to issue an endorsement in Rhode Island’s race for governor.
Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and Democratic attorney general candidate Peter Kilmartin are also expected not to attend Clinton’s visit. It would be a little surprising if Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts were to attend, given how Caprio previously declined to endorse her.
Here’s a sample of the explanations: Chip Unruh, spokesman for US Senator Jack Reed, says Reed is booked tomorrow and plans to campaign for Caprio on Monday and Tuesday. Cicilline’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, says Cicilline won’t attend the VMA event because of plans to go to a wake. Kilmartin spokesman Brett Broesder says the AG candidate is booked, “and unless we can reschedule a few things, we won’t be there.”
State Democratic Chairman Ed Pacheco downplays the possible no-shows for Clinton’s appearance, saying, “A lot of things are happening,” with the election two days after Sunday. “A lot of candidates are focused on their efforts,” Pacheco adds. “I’m sure they’ll try to get by [to the VMA] on Sunday.”
I’ve left a request for comment with Caprio’s campaign and will update when I hear back.
One Democratic source says Caprio’s “shove it” remark to the president was a final straw for Democrats concerned by how the Democratic candidate had criticized federal flood-relief efforts, visited with the RNC, and so forth.
“There is such a rift right now in the Democratic Party — candidates and elected officials — there are at least three statewide Democratic campaigns that do not want to give their acceptance speeches at the Biltmore, if they win, with a Caprio banner hanging behind them,” says one source, referring to the traditional Democratic gathering spot.
In one sign of how Rhode Island remains “Clinton Country,” most of the state’s Democratic establishment, with the notable exception of AG Patrick Lynch, lined up behind Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008.
By last Monday, all four members of the Congressional delegation, as well as Cicilline, Roberts, Mollis, and Senate president Teresa Paiva-Weed attended when President Obama spoke at American Cord and Webbing in Woonsocket.
UPDATE: “I wish I had chosen different language”
The Caprio campaign issued this statement this afternoon:
Earlier this week, I made some comments regarding President Obama that have generated a lot of discussion. I have had a lot of time to reflect on my words and I understand the criticisms. I respect President Obama’s decision not to get involved in the governor’s race. President Obama was being loyal to someone who endorsed him, the same way President Clinton has been loyal to me for supporting Hillary Clinton.
The way the White House announced that there would be no endorsement caught me by surprise. I wish I had chosen different language, but now the focus has to be on what is important to Rhode Islanders. The only thing that matters is who would best govern our state. Who has the best plan to create jobs? Who is going to move the economy forward? Who is going to fight for children and families in Rhode Island?
I am running for governor to fight for Rhode Island families, and if given the opportunity to serve, I will always do what is best for Rhode Island.
UPDATE II: Raimondo will be there.
The thinking among Democrats was that treasurer candidate Gina Raimondo was likely to attend Clinton’s appearance for Caprio, in part since she may succeed Caprio and doesn’t want to frost the treasurer or his staff before a transition. And we received word from Raimondo’s camp shortly before 2 pm Sunday that she will be attending the event.