Republican Governors Association buys Robitaille ads

The Republican Governors Association is making a big investment in Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille’s campaign less than two weeks before voters go to the polls – a sign the national G.O.P. thinks the former Carcieri aide has a chance to pull off an upset victory over Frank Caprio and Lincoln Chafee.

The RGA placed an order this morning for $175,240 worth of television advertising time on WPRI-TV and WNAC-TV, my colleagues in our advertising department told me when I checked a little while ago.

That’s a sizable chunk of change, and assuming the RGA is spending similar amounts at the other local stations (adjusted for our respective ratings shares), it indicates WRNI reporter Scott MacKay may have been on the money when he reported earlier today that the RGA will spend around $500,000 on Robitaille’s behalf.

The Democratic Governors Association has been very active in support of Frank Caprio, spending about $541,000 this month alone on TV ads attacking Chafee. And the spending by the two party organizations is on top of all the money the campaigns themselves are putting out.

Robitaille has trailed Chafee and Caprio in the polls all year, but recent surveys have shown him consistently winning the support of 20% to 25% of voters. With about 10% still undecided and the two front-runners both stuck around 30% to 33% – and waging an increasingly nasty campaign – there is clearly an opportunity for Robitaille to emerge as a third option for voters unhappy with Chafee and Caprio.

One way Robitaille could accomplish that would be with a strong performance in our final televised gubernatorial debate next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. (How’s that for a shameless plug? Tim White, you owe me $10.)

Just another sign this contest is going to go down to the wire.

Update: I just got off the phone with Mike Napolitano, Robitaille’s spokesman. The campaigns aren’t allowed to coordinate with the governors associations, so he said my call was the first confirmation he’d received that the RGA was buying ads on his candidate’s behalf.

“I think this shows they feel John Robitaille will win this race,” Napolitano said. He said a growing number of voters are telling Robitaille that “they’re fed up with the other two” because of all the negative campaigning Caprio and Chafee are engaging in.

As for the Robitaille campaign? “We are going to continue to stay focused on John’s message, and we are going to continue to keep our campaign positive,” he said. “The message is lower taxes, get government out of the way, and provide more jobs.”

Update #2: The Caprio campaign says the RGA has booked about $411,000 worth of ads for next week, according to The Associated Press.

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