Caprio's Clinton fixation

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  October 20, 2010

Caprio has also skillfully exploited broad opposition to Chafee's signature campaign proposal: imposing a one percent sales tax on currently exempt items like food, clothing, and medicine to help remedy the state's budget woes.

During a recent appearance before some 40 fifth graders, Caprio says, he introduced himself, said he was running for governor against Lincoln Chafee, and asked if the students knew anything about his opponent.

"About three-quarters of the hands went up and on purpose I didn't just pick on one guy, I said, 'tell me what you know,' because 10- or 11-year-old kids would yell out," Caprio says.

"He wants to raise taxes," the kids said.

Caprio: "And when I saw that, I said, 'I think it's going to be an uphill battle for [Chafee], if a 10- or 11-year-old kid sitting in fifth grade in North Providence knows the message.'"

Caprio has been spending a lot of time, these days, in towns like North Providence, East Providence, and Johnston — a traditionalist, vote-rich stretch of the state with a sizable Italian-American population that political operatives refer to as "the cannoli belt."

Public and private polling suggest that voters from this region — and a broader collection of seniors from across the state — form the foundation of Caprio's electoral coalition.

Indeed, if Clinton's New Democrat push had a feel of, well, the new, Caprio's candidacy — for all its clever exploitation of new media tools — has the feel of a throwback.

At a recent appearance before a group of seniors at a modest, well-groomed housing development in Johnston, Caprio handed out cards featuring a picture of himself as a young man, dressed in his Harvard baseball uniform, alongside his now-deceased grandfather, an Italian immigrant who worked as a milkman.

Caprio spoke of lessons learned from his grandfather. And he poked some fun at the elder Caprio's outfit: his suspenders pulling up his pants just a little too high.

The crowd had a laugh. And then Lorna E. Ziglio, 70, who worked as a senior services administrator under former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, stood up to sing a jingle on the candidate's behalf — "Vote for Caprio, he's our man" — just as she had for Cianci and gubernatorial candidate Joe Walsh before him.

Afterward Ziglio poked at a plate of hot ziti and meatballs proffered by the campaign and spoke of Caprio as a "down-to-earth . . . people person." It was, of course, the rhetoric of a fervent supporter. But it spoke to an important strength.

Caprio's ability to project some empathy for a struggling electorate — though hardly Clintonian— is serving him well in a race against the well-to-do Chafee. If he wins, it may be the decisive factor.


TACKING RIGHT?

Getting Ziglio and the rest of the aging party regulars to the polls is vital for Caprio and his more liberal cohorts on the Democratic ticket; witness Cicilline's "Saving Social Security" tour.

But insiders say the get-out-the-vote effort will be hamstrung, a bit, by several Democratic candidates' decisions to contribute less than requested to the party's coordinated campaign effort.

There are some turf issues involved: the Cicilline camp, for instance, does not want to fold the extensive field operation it built during a competitive primary into the party-wide, general election effort. But there is also a disconnect between the universe of voters targeted by the gubernatorial standard bearer at the top of the ticket and the candidates listed below.

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