After Rhode Island Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio declared President Obama could take his endorsement and "really shove it," the president Tuesday night said the comments are "not a big deal."
Caprio is running in a tight race against Republican-turned-independent and former senator Lincoln Chafee. The state general treasurer made waves when he slammed the president after finding out Obama would not be endorsing him in his Monday visit to the Ocean State.
"He can take his endorsement and really shove it," he told Providence radio station WPRO. "He ignored us and now he's coming into Rhode Island and treating us like an ATM machine."
"You know, I saw that," Obama said when asked if he was aware of the incident in an interview with American Urban Radio Networks' White House Correspondent April Ryan, "that's not a big deal." As the phone cut in and out, the president said that Caprio was "obviously...upset that I hadn't officially endorsed him."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday said that the president would not get involved in the race out of "friendship" for Chafee. "We were clear with the campaign that we weren't going to get involved in the race," he said, adding, "his words don't in any way meet the actions of a campaign that was looking for support."
Chafee, who endorsed Obama in 2008, is running an ad in Rhode Island featuring then-candidate Obama lauding Chafee's opposition to the Iraq war in a March 2008 speech in Providence. "That's the kind of leader Linc Chafee is," the ad says.
In a Tuesday night debate, Caprio said his statement was not calculated, but that he "reacted in a very human way." Chafee and Republican John F. Robitaille disagreed. "It didn't make any sense," said Chafee. "It was a very positive day for our state, a lot of anticipation with a presidential visit. I have to say it's unfortunate and regrettable in the reflection on our state."
Robitaille said Caprio behaved like a "petulant little child."
But the president indicated that when push comes to...shove, inflammatory comments aren't his main concern. "One of the things you learn, April, in politics is, you don't worry about people saying stuff about you," he said. "As long as you know you're focused on what's right for people."