PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - When Rhode Island Democrat Frank Caprio hit the national stage a week before November's election saying that President Barack Obama could "really shove it" for not endorsing his gubernatorial campaign, he turned off most voters — and lost spectacularly.
While some cheered him on, Caprio ended up third in a four-way race that once seemed his to lose. Independent Lincoln Chafee, an Obama ally, was elected to the state's top job.
Now, in his only sit-down interview since the election, Caprio tells The Associated Press he has no regrets about his campaign and says while he's now focused on a new job in the private sector, he may one day get back into politics.
"You learn a lot more (from a loss)," he told the AP this week. "The more important thing after that is what you do with that experience and can you turn it into a positive experience down the road."
Obama refused to endorse anyone in the governor's race because Chafee, a former Republican who served with Obama in the U.S. Senate, had given him a high-profile endorsement during the 2008 Democratic primary.
The president's decision became a sore spot for Caprio's campaign. In the final weeks, a race that once seemed to be a two-way contest between Chafee and Caprio saw a surge from Republican John Robitaille, a candidate who had never held elected office and was little-known in the heavily Democratic state.
On the morning the president was to make his first visit to Rhode Island since taking office, Caprio, 45, a conservative Democrat known for being exceedingly polite and controlled, lashed out at Obama. He told local radio station WPRO-AM that the president was treating the state "like an ATM machine" by coming to Rhode Island to raise money and said he'd wear his non-endorsement as a badge of honor and courage.
Obama said later the comments were no big deal. Caprio stuck by his remarks, although he eventually said he understood the president's decision and wished he had used different language. He never apologized.
Two explanations emerged about the comments. One was that Caprio had gone off the rails in a moment of frustration. Robitaille said he believes Caprio, former treasurer general and member of the General Assembly, planned it.
"Frank made that comment as a last-ditch effort to win over conservatives who did not like President Obama," he said.
When asked, Caprio will say only that it was a "human reaction" and won't elaborate. It was the same language he used shortly after making the comment. He calls it a "political memory" that he's not interested in rehashing.
"At the end of the day, it was my campaign, and I'm responsible for the unsuccessful result. I wish things had turned out better," he said. "I wish I had run a better campaign. People would have voted for me. But that didn't happen."
Caprio ultimately received 23 percent of the vote to Chafee's 36 percent. Robitaille got 34 percent and Ken Block of the Moderate Party received 6.5 percent.
Caprio told the AP he has since sent the president a message through an intermediary, saying he has the greatest respect for him and hopes someday to meet him in person and talk more about it in a friendly way. He says the intermediary told him his message was well received.
Despite the hubbub, it wasn't "shove it" that sunk Caprio's campaign, said M. Charles Bakst, a retired longtime political columnist for The Providence Journal. Instead, he said, Caprio was hurt by issues surrounding his father, a state official accused of pulling strings to get jobs for political friends or to sink enemies, and by Caprio's seemingly robotic behavior.
"He was the most programmed candidate I ever encountered," Bakst said.
That quality turned people off, said Robitaille, who made dozens of appearances at candidates' forums and debates with Caprio and calls him a good guy.
"He lost his personality, the guy that he is," Robitaille said.
Caprio says a lot of factors were at play in his loss, not least of which was a broader national mood.
"Nationally, you had the biggest Republican surge and change in Congress in 60 years," he said. "The last phase of the campaign was a difficult environment."
He still remains guarded when talking about his campaign. He said repeatedly he learned lessons from the four years he spent working for the governor's seat, but when asked what some of those lessons were he replied, "I'll keep those to myself."
Later, when asked what he's learned about himself, he is more reflective.
"You'll be as successful as the people that you have around you and the atmosphere that you foster," he said. "The one constant is me."
Caprio noted there are many successful politicians who lost high-profile races, then came back to win even greater success — not least of which is Obama.
"There may come a time when I'm interested in taking those 20 years of experience and putting them to work," he said.
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