Democrat Frank Caprio has taken a slight lead against his top opponent, Independent Lincoln Chafee '75, in the latest poll in the Rhode Island race for governor.
The poll comes nearly a month after state Attorney General Patrick Lynch's July 15 decision to exit the contest for the Democratic nomination, a move that made Caprio — the current state treasurer — the Democrats' de facto nominee and allowed him to pivot to campaigning against Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator and ex-mayor of Warwick.
Released Aug. 19, the new Rasmussen Reports poll shows Caprio either six or seven points ahead of Chafee, depending on whether the Republican candidate is John Robitaille or Victor Moffitt, which will be decided by the Sept. 14 primary.
With Robitaille as the G.O.P. contender, the poll shows Caprio picking up 38 percent of the vote to Chafee's 32 percent. This leaves Robitaille trailing at 20 percent, with 2 percent favoring some other candidate and 8 percent undecided. If Moffitt is the Republican on the ballot, Caprio leads 40 percent to Chafee's 33 percent. Moffitt garners 17 percent, while 2 percent favor some other candidate and 7 percent are unsure.
The survey of 750 likely voters also finds Caprio favored among both Republicans and Democrats and Chafee slightly ahead with unaffiliated voters. According to the poll, Chafee is viewed "favorably" by 54 percent of voters and "unfavorably" by 40 percent, while 66 percent are favorable of Caprio and 20 percent unfavorable.
The August Rasmussen poll is the most recent in a close race that has seen Caprio steadily chip away at Chafee's early advantage. An Aug. 6 Brown survey found Caprio and Chafee in a statistical tie and more than 30 percent of voters undecided. The previous Rasmussen poll, released in late July, found Chafee leading Caprio by either three or seven points, depending on the Republican in the race.
The Chafee campaign has contended a push-poll by Caprio supporters could have influenced the new survey's results, according to an Aug. 21 Providence Journal article. The telephone effort purportedly involved callers asking voters questions intended to impress a negative view of Chafee, including queries comparing Caprio's budget-trimming credentials to Chafee's proposed sales tax increase.
The Caprio campaign declined to comment on the allegations to The Herald.
Caprio spokesman Nick Hemond said the campaign is "encouraged" by the poll results and attributed the candidate's gains to the resonance of his message of "putting the wind at the backs of small businesses."
The new numbers are likely an imperfect indicator of the race's outcome this far in advance of the November election, according to Associate Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller.
"I think at this point, it's still really unstable," Schiller said. "Once the candidates start spending money on television after Labor Day, then I think the polls get more accurate."
Last week, both Chafee and Caprio unveiled advertisements touting themes that each has emphasized in the race, with Chafee aligning himself with Rhode Island's "tradition of independence" and Caprio stressing his commitment to helping the state's small businesses. Neither advertisement mentions the opposing candidates.
"There's no question that Lincoln Chafee had to start spending on advertising now," Schiller said, citing Chafee's need to maintain his visibility in the race in light of the poll's results, regardless of the survey's reliability.
The recent polls represent the normal fluctuations in voter opinion during an election cycle, according to Chafee campaign manager J.R. Pagliarini.
"We are totally unfazed by the numbers," he said. "Often, you're going to have a little slip, and it's best to have a little slip in August, of course, than it is in late October."
For the Robitaille campaign, the poll results highlight the importance of continuing to build name recognition, according to spokesman Michael Napolitano. Robitaille, the endorsed GOP candidate, was a communications adviser to current Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri '65, who is not running due to term limit.
Carcieri's first bid for governor shows a November surprise in the Republicans' favor should not be discounted, Napolitano said.
"This isn't the first time this has happened with Republicans running for governor," he said, citing Carcieri's experience overcoming a large late-summer polling deficit to defeat Democrat Myrth York in 2002.
"We feel strongly that when we get our candidate and our message out, we'll be able to move numbers in the polls," Napolitano said.