Two days after a Democrat vying for the governor's office told President Barack Obama to "shove it," he and the other candidates got back to discussing the issues, touching on topics from job creation and education reform to legalizing so-called victimless crimes in a live televised debate.
Wednesday's hourlong debate featured the four major candidates, Democrat Frank Caprio, Republican John Robitaille, independent Lincoln Chafee and Moderate Party representative Ken Block, in their second-to-last debate before the Nov. 2 election.
Three other independent candidates, Joseph Lusi, Ronald Algier and Todd Giroux, also participated but haven't raised significant money and aren't considered serious contenders to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Don Carcieri.
Heading into the debate, news had swirled around comments made Monday by Caprio, who said Obama could "take his endorsement and really shove it" after he learned the president wouldn't endorse anyone in the race. He stood by his remarks on Wednesday, adding, "This was about back-room Washington politics at its worst." He said he respects and admires Obama.
Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator, responded by saying that Caprio, the state's general treasurer, "should have known better," and he said his actions could adversely effect the state's relationship with the federal government.
Obama has downplayed Caprio's comments, calling them "not a big deal."
Block labeled the "shove it" issue a distraction and said the candidates should focus on issues such as job creation and education. Robitaille chose not to weigh in on the remark, instead criticizing Chafee's plan to impose a 1 percent sales tax on currently exempt items such as groceries and prescription drugs.
Chafee said Robitaille's pledge to cut taxes and cut spending doesn't add up.
Exchanging only passing blows, the leading candidates held back in their criticisms as the three lesser-known candidates perforated the discussion.
On education reform, Caprio and Robitaille expressed their support for Department of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the state's pursuit of federal Race to the Top funds. Caprio, however, went on to criticize Robitaille for his ties to the Carcieri administration and its decision to cut aide to cities and towns.
Responding to a question on the cost of the state's prison system, Chafee said he favors exploring alternative sentencing for crimes often called victimless, such as prostitution and low-level drug possession.
Block touted his business background and challenged Chafee to put forth a substantive jobs plan.
There have been no reliable polls in the race, but Chafee and Caprio have led in fundraising and name recognition. Robitaille and Block have run small businesses and have never held elected office.
The debate, held at Bryant University, was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and WLNE-TV.
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