Why Obama's Rhode Island Non-Endorsement Matters

The president was told to 'shove it' for not backing the Democratic candidate, but is he risking a real backlash?

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Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio made headlines yesterday when he told Barack Obama to "shove it" for refusing him during a visit to the Ocean State Monday. A White House cited the president's close relationship with independent candidate Lincoln Chafee, who served with Obama in the Senate and endorsed his candidacy in 2008, as the reason for the non-endorsement. And while it was hardly the first in-house rift involving Obama and his fellow Democrats this election season, a handful of voices argued it might be the most damaging.

  • Politics as Usual The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg says that for liberals who have observed the Obama administration with mounting dismay, the non-endorsement was another remind that this president is bound by the same political realities of his predecessors. "More than a political sideshow, the Rhode Island intra-party spat was a stark reminder that the president is willing to go to great lengths to keep his party in power on Capitol Hill – even if it means stepping into a hornet’s nest of local politics and getting stung."
  • Provocative  The timing of the appearance--just eight days before election day--sent the wrong message to Democrats, argues The Wall Street Journal's William McGurn. That Mr. Obama would decide to stay on the sidelines here is not surprising, given Mr. Chafee's past support," concedes McGurn. "What is surprising, though, is that the White House would choose to embarrass a Democratic candidate in such a high-profile way, traveling to Mr. Caprio's home eight days before a close election."
  • Botched Response  National Journal's Matthew Cooper blames the Obama press shop for letting the story take on new life. Because of the White House's inartful handling of the entire Rhode Island visit, the president returns home with "a mini-oil spill on his hands." These types of political skirmishes are not unprecedented. How, Cooper wonders rhetorically, "the White House let one little event become a two-day story?"
  • Desperate  With Democrats around the country fighting for their political lives, there was no reason for Obama to even be in Rhode Island, contends The Guardian's Michael Tomasky. "It's kind of pathetic," he writes, "the equivalent of Bush in his last two years going to Oklahoma and Idaho and Utah, about the only places he was above 50% toward the end. Things aren't remotely that bad for Obama, but by doing this, he's feeding the impression that they are."
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