Caprio's ad campaign quietly goes dark

Off the Air
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  December 22, 2009

GONE A screen grab from a Caprio TV spot on YouTube.

A month-and-a-half ago, Treasurer Frank T. Caprio erased any doubt that he was running for governor with a splashy, front-page announcement of his candidacy and the launch of a $100,000-per-month advertising campaign.

The gubernatorial bid, of course, still goes on. But in recent weeks, the Caprio team has quietly suspended much of the advertising blitz. So, what happened?

The ad buy, when it was first announced, raised eyebrows in political circles. It was, after all, an unusually early media foray.

Yes, observers said, Caprio had a sizable fundraising lead over his rival for the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

But, the pundits wondered, was this a wise expenditure of campaign resources? Were voters really paying attention to the race so early?

The Caprio camp defended the move at the time. "We think that people are very interested already," campaign spokeswoman Margie O'Brien told the Phoenix, "and mostly because of the economy."

And she argued that the advertising barrage, which focused on small business and invited viewers to submit their own ideas for turning around the Rhode Island economy, would allow the treasurer to stake out what is bound to be the premier issue in the gubernatorial race.

Besides, the spot at the center of the campaign — produced by Obama media man Jason Ralston and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director John Lapp — was, by all accounts, an appealing one.

But observers argued that the true target of the campaign was not the voters, but a couple of thousand people who really were paying attention — journalists, donors, operatives, and Caprio's opponents. Especially Lynch.

Perhaps the plan was to intimidate Lynch, insiders suggested. To nudge him out of the race. Or to make a show of strength to donors — and steer them away from the Attorney General. Maybe both. Whatever Caprio's matrix, he seems to have decided that the ad campaign was not performing as hoped.

O'Brien downplayed the pullback, suggesting the campaign will be back in full force sometime "in the first quarter" of the new year. But Mike Mikus, Lynch's campaign manager, was reveling in news of Caprio's move. "It looks like he broke his first campaign promise," Mikus said.

The aborted ad campaign is a rare slip-up for a candidate, and a campaign, that has shown a golden touch to date — deftly parrying potential controversy over contributions from law firms awarded state work and generally projecting an air of competence. Even the ad campaign — if a bit too much, a bit too early, by some accounts — seemed shrewd in its messaging.

And Caprio's decision to pull the plug now, rather than play out the string, may prove wise in the long run.

But for now, a small victory for Lynch. And another, bigger one may be coming. Lynch had about one-third of Caprio's war chest as of the last reporting period. And he is expected to trail in fundraising throughout the campaign. But Mikus says the fourth quarter is shaping up to be Lynch's most lucrative of the year.

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  Topics: This Just In , Barack Obama, state, Frank T. Caprio,  More more >
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