Rhode Island's 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee is likely to try again

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January 20, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island: John F. Robitaille, a paratrooper turned business owner who missed becoming Rhode Island's Governor by less than three points, says he may run again in 2014.[1] Robitaille trounced Victor G. Moffitt, who has prior political experience as a state Representative, 70% to 30% in the September primary. In a three-way race against Democrat Frank T. Caprio and Independent Lincoln Chafee, he significantly outperformed polls and came in a very narrow second.

Saying he is not an independently wealthy man, Robitaille has already ruled out challenging Sheldon Whitehouse for the U.S. Senate, a race that is already predicted to cost much more than the next round of gubernatorial politicking. Ironically, it was Whitehouse who ousted Lincoln Chafee, a Republican at the time, from the Senate in 2006.

Rhode Island

Should Robitaille run in 2014, he will face Governor Chafee, currently America's only governor not to belong to a major party. Chafee's own Lieutenant, Elizabeth H. Roberts, is a Democrat and her party is solidly in control of both the House and Senate. If the two sides spend four years in an adversarial style of lawmaking, Robitaille, or another Republican, could potentially exploit that to win the governorship.

Chafee succeeded term-limited Republican Donald Carcieri, disappointing Dems who had been carefully planning for years how to capitalize on Carcieri's shaky approval and narrow re-election margins to take the office themselves. Caprio's path to the Democratic nomination was far from easy. In July 2010, his would-be primary rival, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, reluctantly ended his campaign after the party made it clear he could expect no support. In September, Robitaille claimed that Caprio had approached him about dropping out of the race and endorsing him against Chafee.[2] Caprio denied it, but soon after a story broke that, as far back as February 2010, Caprio had been in quiet conversations with the RNC about securing their support for his then-nascent gubernatorial bid.[3]

Caprio sunk his hopes for winning the midterm election and possibly tabled his political aspirations for the future when, upset at President Obama's choice to endorse Chafee over a fellow Dem, Caprio publicly said the President could “shove it”.[4] Some analysts felt it was this series of late collapses in Caprio's campaign that led to Robitaille's impressive showing on Election Night. However, the GOP held the governorship for 16 years before Chafee won and Robitaille's lopsided primary win somewhat refutes the idea that he can't win a race without chaos in the opposing camp.

Robitaille has also shown he already knows when to stay out the fray. In the final debate of the 2010 season, with Caprio showing the stress that would lead to his outburst at the President and Chafee having just lost a campaign manager, a reporter asked the GOP's man if he was gloating over the misfortune of his rivals. The smiling candidate replied, ““I’m staying out of that. My plan is to let them just beat each other up and I’ll be the beneficiary.”[5]