And the Caprio camp has taken a certain glee in contrasting that message with the Chafee proposal getting the most ink: a plan to levy a one percent sales tax on currently exempt items including food, clothing, and over-the-counter drugs in a bid to close the state's yawning budget deficit.

West says that contrast does favor Caprio — trust in small business is much higher, on the whole, than trust in government. And a tax hike, of course, is never a particularly popular idea.

But for the Chafee campaign, the sales tax proposal is more than a policy prescription. It says something vital about the candidate. Chafee has crafted an image over the years as the anti-politician, a man willing to tell the voters the hard truth —in this case, we need to raise taxes — whatever the risk to his own career.

Indeed, ask Chafee campaign manager J.R. Pagliarini why his boss will win in November and he focuses not on the message — as the Caprio camp does — but on the man: "I think it's the senator's long-standing reputation with the people of Rhode Island — someone who's always voted his conscience, who exudes independence."

But assembling the roughly 40 percent of the vote required to prevail in a multi-candidate race may require Messrs. Chafee and Caprio to borrow, a bit, from the opposition's playbook.

Chafee's name may be "golden," says West, "but I think the big issue is the economy. Name, alone, is not going to elect anyone." And Caprio, as evidenced by his middling standing among Democrats in the Rasmussen poll, will have to convince the party faithful that he is the right man for the job — that he shares their values.

That need, says former Brown University political science professor Jennifer Lawless, may be part of the reason Caprio asked Bill Clinton to come to town to campaign on his behalf.

We'll see if it's enough.

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