As his polls approval ratings continue heading south, yet another poll shows independent voters deserting the Democrats in droves, and he criss-crosses the country trying to motivate the Democratic Party’s base, President Barack Obama is now enmeshed in a controversy centered on his refusal to endorse the Democrat in Rhode Island running for governor out of respect for Republican-turned independent candidate for governor Lincoln Chaffe, who endorsed Obama for President. And the spurned Democrat now has two blunt words for Obama about what he can do with his endorsement: “..shove it.”
It’s not the kind of controversy — and added piece to an increasingly cloudy political context — that’s likely to help Obama or his party at the polls:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio is livid after the Providence Journal reported Monday morning President Obama would not endorse Caprio during his visit to the state today.
“He can take his endorsement and really shove it”, Caprio told John Depetro and the WPRO morning news. Caprio told WPRO he did not seek the President’s endorsement and calls the snub Washington politics.
“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 fly over of Rhode Island. He ignored us and now he’s coming into Rhode Island and treating us like an ATM machine”, said Caprio.
And now the speculation has begun: did Caprio do it because he was really angry? Or is he trying to pick up Republican votes in close race? Did Obama really do it because of how Chaffee stuck his neck out and supported Obama’s election? Or is the fact that Caprio was a Hillary Clinton supporter have something to do with? Will it doom Caprio’s campaign?
For all the talk this fall about Obama’s unpopularity in swing states and districts, and for all the questions, it’s ironic that such a blow-up has happened in a race where the president’s endorsement could have provided a big help: Rasmussen finds that 56 percent of Rhode Island’s likely voters approve of Obama’s job performance.
Rasmussen shows Chafee leading this race, while other polling firms have shown Caprio ahead as recently as October 6.
What does this whole episode mean?
The key signficance is that it reflects an almost mind-boggling political flatfootedness on the part of Barack Obama and/or his political team. Just read the original Providence Journal story’s beginning:
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.
That would not be good news for Caprio…
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.
So now Caprio reads Chaffee’s side doing a verbal high five.
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.
And it turns out Caprio had no advance warning.
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.
If this had been handled better, team Obama could show that this was a sign of the President’s bipartisanship. But in the end it’s messy publicity for Obama and will hardly galvanize members of the Democratic party’s base to rush to the polls.
Even worse: This apparent inability to think things through and minimize negative consequences doesn’t bode well for Obama for what is likely to face him in 2011: having to deal with a Republican House or perhaps even a Republican Senate. Bill Clinton had political smarts. Obama, increasingly, shows signs of needing political seasoning.