Whatever the precise fallout, Robitaille was close. And GOP operatives can imagine a whole host of "coulda shoulda, wouldas" that might have pushed him over the top: the candidate could have raised $100,000 more; the Republican Governors Association should have started airing ads a week earlier; things might have been different if the media had paid more attention to Robitaille at the outset.
The media's failure in the gubernatorial contest, though, was not merely one of anticipation. There was something larger in play here; Robitaille, after all, is not the only candidate who got short shrift this campaign season.
The Providence Journal, in fairness, did much quite well during the gubernatorial campaign. Reporter Steve Peoples, who has since left the paper, wrote a strong piece about law firms that did business with Caprio's office and made significant campaign contributions to the treasurer.
Columnist Ed Fitzpatrick broke news of the Democrat's meeting with Republican National Committee officials in Washington amid speculation that he might switch parties. Investigative reporter Mike Stanton looked into Caprio's father's push to get jobs for family friends at the state's public colleges.
The paper's new fact-checking operation, a local version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, kept all the candidates honest. And State House reporter Kathy Gregg was a tireless presence on the campaign trail, breaking the story of Attorney General Patrick Lynch's decision to quit the Democratic primary, pouring over campaign finance records, and probing the candidates' positions on everything from gambling to pension reform.
But there was something important missing in this year's reporting on the governor's race — a hole that becomes quite evident after a quick comparison with the paper's larger cousin to the north.
The Boston Globe's coverage of the Massachusetts governor's race — also pitting a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent — included the sort of daily campaign combat that filled the pages of the ProJo. And the paper engaged in some of the investigative reporting that the Providence paper showcased.
But the Globe also aimed for a depth and insight that was lacking here — publishing a portrait of independent Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill's early business career, for example, and an examination of Republican Charlie Baker's decision, as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, to pull out of Rhode Island in 1999.
Here was a glimpse at the personal histories and leadership styles of the major candidates. Here was a fuller picture of the men who would be governor — a picture that was lacking in Rhode Island.
There was no piece on Caprio's time as an undergraduate at Harvard University; no comprehensive take on the alliances he built — and the causes he championed — during his time as a state legislator; no attempt to divine what his tenure as treasurer might tell us about a Governor Caprio.
Chafee's Senate record got just a cursory look. There was no lyrical account of his early career as a farrier, shoeing horses; no cold-eyed assessment of his tenure as Warwick mayor. An in-depth examination of the business careers of Robitaille or Block was missing.
Of course, the holes in the coverage owe something to factors beyond the paper's control: the general decline of print journalism and the ProJo's recent losses in institutional memory and talent.
Senior political reporters Scott MacKay and Mark Arsenault joined long-time political columnist M. Charles Bakst in taking buyouts a couple of years ago. And more recently, talented young reporters like Peoples and Cynthia Needham have left the paper.
The ProJo, moreover, has never had the resources of the Globe, making any comparison with a paper of that size a bit unfair.
But the ProJo has done better in the past. It can do better now. And if we can't expect more, as one operative put it, our little democracy has a problem.
David Scharfenberg can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.