(CNN) - "Shove it" was the most used phrase in the Rhode Island Gubernatorial debate Tuesday night.
Democratic nominee Frank Caprio said the president should "shove it" this week after not endorsing his candidacy. And the topic was the lead off question of the night's debate.
"It was a political answer to a political reaction that the White House took. When you're dealing in a political situation words like that are not uncommon. I stand by my words," Caprio said. "I reacted in a very human way, and I will continue to react in an appropriate way down the road."
Caprio also said he respected the president, but that didn't stop his opponents from jumping on the opportunity to address the issue.
Republican-turned-independent former Sen. Lincoln Chafee said it was "unfortunate and regrettable in the reflection on our state."
Republican John Robitaille used harsher words, saying he would never "disrespect the President of the United States the way this man did."
"This is either a man who is not mature enough to posses the temperament to make good decisions and act like a potential governor, or it's a petulant little child reacting to not getting his own way," Robitaille said.
And it was Caprio's response to that comment that created the biggest stir from the audience, complete with boos and cheers.
"People in Rhode Island are hurting right now. People are sitting around in their homes tonight and they don't know if they're gong to be able to pay their rent next week when it's due," Caprio said. "And if it takes telling someone to shove it, I'm going to tell them to shove it because I'm going to fight for Rhode Island every day when I'm up at that state house."
The candidates, including moderate party candidate Ken Block addressed taxes, job creation and reforming the state government for much of the hour-long debate.
Robitaille said he would cut the social programs that residents have become dependent upon in the state, and attacked Chafee on his tax policy.
"I don't think Chafee can say the word cut," Robitaille said. "He's talking about raising taxes."
Caprio also jumped on the anti-tax bandwagon.
"We live in the real world in Rhode Island right now people are struggling, people are frustrated, people are exhausted, they don't want more taxes," Caprio said. "It's time to go through that budget line by line and make the cuts and make the state run just like your households run."
Chafee stressed his experience as mayor and Senator and said he knows how to cut spending and create jobs.
"You invest in infrastructure and education and that leads to companies want to come to your community," Chafee said. "I did it as mayor and that's what I plan to do."
According to recent polls the race remains close, with Caprio leading slightly. The winner of the election in November will replace Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri who is term limited.
– Follow Gabriella Schwarz on Twitter: @schwarzgcnn