Eyes on the prize

Hold on, Linc Chafee! Dems Frank Caprio, Patrick Lynch, and Elizabeth Roberts would also like to be governor in 2010
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  April 22, 2009

We interrupt the Lincoln Chafee buzz fest to bring you this little nugget of news: there are a few Democrats who'd like to be governor, too.

Chafee, the former Republican US Senator-turned-Bush-bashing-independent, has been filling newspapers and lighting up the blogosphere in recent weeks with the all-but-official announcement that he's in the 2010 race to succeed Governor Donald Carcieri.

But for months now, three Democrats have been sending their own less-than-subtle signals about their interest in the post.

General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts are piling up the campaign cash, hiring staff, and courting potential supporters.

Of course, primary day is a full 16 months off. And there are a few other potential candidates hovering around the edges of the race — former US Representative Bob Weygand, anyone?

But the field seems close to settled at this point. And the state's political class, if a touch distracted by that pesky financial meltdown on Smith Hill, has already begun to size up the contenders.

The consensus view: it's wide open. All three candidates hold statewide office, hail from families with deep political roots, and are reasonably compelling on the stump. But the lines of demarcation are starting to take shape.

Caprio has built a sizable fundraising lead. Pundits are giving Roberts the edge with women voters. Operatives say Lynch may have the inside track on organized labor. And there is plenty of debate over which candidate would be best suited to take on Chafee and the eventual Republican gubernatorial nominee — be it state Representative Joseph A. Trillo, the only GOP figure in the mix at present, or some yet-to-emerge businessman with deep pockets.

There is, in short, plenty to chew on. So here they are, your three Democratic hopefuls: their strengths, their weaknesses, and their paths to the big prize — the governorship of a down-on-its-luck state teetering on the brink of collapse.

090424_Caprio_m
CALM AND COMPETENT Caprio. 

FRANK T. CAPRIO
If there's a front-runner, most observers say, it's Caprio.

A former Providence state senator, the treasurer can count on a certain measure of name recognition. His father, Municipal Court Judge Frank Caprio, is the star of WLNE-TV's cult favorite Caught in Providence. And his brother, David A. Caprio, is a state representative out of Narragansett.

Operatives say the treasurer's Providence ties, South County roots, and appeal to Italian voters should amount to a solid base. And Caprio, who has an early lead in the polls, will campaign from a relatively safe perch.

"The treasurer's office is a place where you don't get in a lot of trouble," said Darrell West, a former political science professor at Brown University who now serves as vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

Indeed, Caprio holds an office that gives him statewide purchase without entanglement in the most contentious State House debates. And a job with a fiscal focus could play well in tough times. "I'll stack up my financial acumen with whoever wants to talk about it," Caprio said, in a recent interview.

Of course, dealing in dollars in the midst of a major economic collapse carries political risks, too: the state's pension portfolio, which Caprio oversees, is down some 30 percent in the last year.

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