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Obama Won't Endorse R.I. Democrat Frank Caprio

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio, left, listens to Independent gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee during a debate, Oct. 14, 2010 in Providence, R.I. AP
Updated at 11:55 a.m. ET

On a visit to Rhode Island on behalf of Democratic Congressional candidates, President Obama won't lend his support Monday to the party's gubernatorial hopeful, Frank Caprio.

"He will not be making an endorsement in the race," says White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki. In a Sunday conference call with reporters, Psaki would not explain why the president is distancing himself from Caprio, who is locked in a tight four-way contest to become Rhode Island's chief executive.

The unspoken explanation lies in the fact that one of Caprio's rivals for the job is former Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, running for Governor as an Independent. He served in the Senate with Mr. Obama as one of the chamber's most moderate Republicans.

After losing his bid for re-election in 2006, Chafee left the GOP and in early 2008, endorsed Barack Obama's candidacy for president before the Rhode Island Democratic Primary, in which Mr. Obama placed 2nd behind Hillary Clinton.

In a statement at the time, Chafee hailed Sen. Obama as, "the best candidate to restore American credibility, to restore our confidence to be moral and to bring people together to solve the complex issues such as the economy, the environment and global stability."

As titular head of the Democratic Party, President Obama can't endorse Independent Chafee over Democrat Caprio, so he's staying out of the race.

Caprio's aides don't want it to appear to be a snub of their candidate, though it's hard for it to be viewed any other way.

The visit to Rhode Island will be Mr. Obama's first since taking office. He'll be attending a $500-per-person fundraising rally followed by a $7,500-per-plate fundraising dinner - both in Providence and both to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

To amortize the political cost of his visit to the DCCC, the president first pays an official visit to the American Cord & Webbing Co. in Woonsocket, R.I. He'll tour the company's plastics injection molding operation and then address workers about his administration's efforts to help small businesses like theirs out of the recession.

Update: In response to the president's refusal to endorse him, Caprio this morning said Mr. Obama "can take his endorsement and really shove it as far as I'm concerned."

In an interview with talk radio host John DePetro on WPRO-AM, Caprio criticized the president for fundraising in Rhode Island today, after ignoring the state during the spring's record flooding, the Providence Journal reports.

"Now he's coming into Rhode Island treating us like an ATM machine," he said.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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