Pro-Fung group begins canceling TV ad buys in RI

Politics
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Republican Governors Association’s Rhode Island affiliate has begun canceling some of its scheduled TV advertising in support of gubernatorial nominee Allan Fung, as the party shifts money to other states with competitive races, Eyewitness News has learned.

Rhode Island Forward – which has so far received $950,000 from the RGA to boost Fung – had most recently been airing an ad criticizing Democratic incumbent Gina Raimondo over her management of DCYF. That commercial fell out of rotation earlier this week and the group now appears to have gone dark on major broadcast stations in Rhode Island.

Board of Elections filings show Rhode Island Forward spent all but $33,000 of its RGA money by Oct. 12. The lion’s share of the group’s outlays – $829,000 – went to Pinpoint Media, a company which purchases TV advertising time for political commercials.

Mike DuHaime, the former Chris Christie adviser who is leading Rhode Island Forward, said back in April the group planned to spend at least $1.5 million on TV time, an announcement hailed at the time by the Fung campaign as a sign Raimondo was beatable.

On Friday night, Duhaime declined to say whether the group will go back on the air. Public polls have shown Fung trailing Raimondo.

“Can’t disclose,” DuHaime told Eyewitness News in an email. “We are evaluating what we do next.”

A source familiar with media buying orders said Rhode Island Forward had canceled its ad buys for the second-to-last week of the race but still had time reserved for the final week in case the situation changes.

There was no immediate comment from the Republican Governors Association, which has already sent significantly more to Rhode Island to help Fung this year than it did four years ago. Fung’s spokesman, Andrew Augustus, sought to put the best face on the development.

“When running against a governor who has raised millions of dollars from out-of-state donors to pay for false negative advertising you are always happy to get support from groups that want to tell the truth and expose her disastrous record,” he said.

“We were pleasantly surprised when Rhode Island Forward PAC came in to support us a month earlier than the time they originally reserved, and clearly, their tremendous on-air, radio, and media presence has helped our efforts as a challenger greatly,” he continued.

Augustus added, “We’re very appreciative of how they’ve set us up for success, and now it’s our job to punch this over the finish line.”

Jennifer Duffy, an elections analyst at The Cook Political Report in Washington, said the decision was a grim sign for the Republican nominee. She rates the race as “Leans Democratic.”

“Rhode Island Forward pulling out means that they see no path to victory for Fung,” she said.

Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming agreed. “That’s a bad sign,” he said.

“It means they believe that he is in a very tough position to win this election,” Fleming continued. “And they have other elections for governor around the country that they probably have a better chance to pick up seats or retain seats.”

Mike Raia, a senior adviser to the Raimondo campaign, declined to comment directly on the decision by Rhode Island Forward. “Gina is bringing change that Rhode Islanders need,” Raia said, citing her policies on job training and economic development.

“Rhode Island’s unemployment is lower than it’s been in 29 years,” he said. “Allan Fung promises to gut those investments and wants to take us backwards. He roots against Rhode Islanders and it appears that’s a failing message. Gina’s focus won’t change. She’ll keep bringing the change Rhode Islanders demand.”

Fung was already at a financial disadvantage in his rematch against Raimondo.

Raimondo has spent a grand total of nearly $5.5 million on her re-election bid since the start of this year, and still had almost $1.4 million on hand as of last week, Board of Elections filings show. Fung had spent about $1.3 million at that point, and had about $824,000 left.

The Democratic Governors Association has so far allocated $2 million to its own affiliate, the Alliance for a Better Rhode Island, which has been tying Fung to President Trump in a series of ads that began running soon after the primary. Raimondo is the DGA’s vice-chair.

“Which means if the RGA is pulling out, the Fung ads are going to be dwarfed by the Democratic Governors Association and the Raimondo ads, which is not a good sign for Allan Fung,” Fleming said.

Four other candidates – independents Joe Trillo and Luis Daniel Muñoz, Moderate Bill Gilbert, and the Compassion Party’s Anne Armstrong – are also on the ballot for governor.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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