Still, if the advertising campaign is designed to send a message to insiders, it does so at high cost. It could even backfire, one observer says, if donors gauge it an imprudent expenditure and think about hedging their bets with Lynch or independent Lincoln Chafee.

But if Caprio can push a rival out of the race, observers say, or goad Lynch into an earlier-than-planned spending spree that leaves him cash-poor down the stretch, his gambit would be a success.

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