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.
FRANK T. CAPRIOIf there's a front-runner, most observers say, it's Caprio.
CALM AND COMPETENT 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.
But West said the voters probably won't blame the treasurer given the global nature of the financial downturn. Neighboring Connecticut has sustained a similar blow to its pension fund. And Caprio has even managed to win points for pulling the state out of several risky financial instruments before the market began its death spiral.
Indeed, one of Caprio's best assets, according to analysts, is that he projects competence. "He has a calm demeanor," West said. "He doesn't come across as highly polished on television, but he comes across as competent . . . In times of crisis, calm beats flash."
The treasurer has also carved out a niche as a techno-phile with a reformist streak, making use of on-demand advertising during his 2006 run for treasurer, putting his office's checkbook on-line, and using Twitter to provide daily updates on state finances.
That could give Caprio a head start in what political consultant Arianne M. Lynch, of Providence-based Advocacy Solutions, says will be the state's first real test of a technologically-driven, social-networking politics in the age of Obama.
But the treasurer's best argument for front-runner status is his bank account. Caprio hired Amy Gabarra, a former campaign aide to Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, to run his fundraising operation just after taking office as treasurer in January 2007. And he wasted little time filling the coffers.
Caprio, who has also enlisted Clinton confidante and fundraiser Mark S. Weiner to beat the bushes, reports $1.2 million in cash on hand at the end of the first quarter — more than Lynch's $500,000 and Roberts's $300,000 combined.
The money should help Caprio build a formidable ground operation and advertising campaign, of course. But Bill Fischer, a media consultant who has worked on Democratic campaigns for years, suggested there could be other benefits.