Eyes on the prize

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  April 22, 2009

Figuring out how to spend down his campaign account will be the least of Caprio's problems, though. He will also have to overcome an emerging view, among key Democratic constituencies, that he is too conservative on social and fiscal issues — and too friendly with the Republican who currently holds the governor's office.

Caprio makes no bones about his plans to rein in corporate taxes and resist tax hikes on the wealthy, arguing that the state needs to be business-friendly if it is to spur economic development.

But the treasurer, who has alienated some liberals with his lukewarm support for same-sex marriage — he says he "won't stand in the way" of legislation as governor — insists that he has progressive bona fides.

He points to several votes for same-sex partner benefits while in the legislature, highlights a push to divest from Darfur, and declares himself pro-choice. And Caprio, who worked with Carcieri at Cookson America in the 1990s, points to a recent spat with the governor over bond sales to demonstrate his independence from the Republican-in-chief.

Still, if the moderate label attaches, Caprio could find himself struggling to win over some key interest groups — and straining to make the argument that he is the best Democrat to take on Chafee in the general election.

Chafee, after all, is an unabashed progressive on social issues and could win substantial support from liberals who feel a certain measure of guilt over booting him from the US Senate in 2006 in a bid to loosen the GOP's grip on power in Washington.

"I think you'll see a lot of people who were responsible for [Chafee's] defeat in 2006 will be responsible for his resurrection in 2010," said Matt Jerzyk, a liberal blogger who has not yet taken sides in the governor's race.

Jerzyk argues that a more progressive figure like Roberts would have a better chance of neutralizing Chafee's appeal to liberals. And Chafee, in an interview last week, concurred. But Jennifer Lawless, an assistant professor of political science and public policy at Brown University, said playing the role of moderate in a Democratic primary is not necessarily a liability.

Rhode Island, unlike some other states, allows independents to participate in Democratic and Republican primaries. And in an increasingly one-party state, Lawless noted, independents with moderate tendencies tend to vote in the Democratic contests in big numbers.

"In a lot of ways, Demo-cratic primaries in Rhode Island really are like general elections and positioning yourself — or actually being — the moderate isn't always a bad thing," she said.

Caprio, she added, could even benefit from a Lynch-Roberts split of the more liberal elements of the party.

But Fischer, the media consultant, said he doesn't buy into the easy ideological labels attached to the three candidates. And he suggests that voter anxiety over the economy — and hunger for leadership on the issue — will trump everything else.

"I don't care what your political party or affiliation," said Fischer, owner of True North Communications in Providence. "There aren't too many people in the state who think we're headed in the right direction.

"Plain talk," he said, and concrete plans for economic development will win the day.

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