The Republican Governors Association canceled tens of thousands of dollars' worth of advertising for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Monday, diminishing the group's support four days before early voting begins.
The governor's group slashed by half its spending on behalf of Ehrlich, who is looking to capitalize on anti-incumbent sentiment and reclaim a position he held from 2002 to 2006, at one television station in the Washington area.
With redistricting on the agenda following this year's gubernatorial elections in 37 states, the RGA has led an aggressive fundraising effort that yielded $31 million in the past three months. The group put money into the expensive D.C. market late last month just as Ehrlich's opponent, Democratic incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley, began advertising to those suburbs.
Since then, recent polls have shown O'Malley with his largest lead of the year.
RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf would not explain the shift, but said in an e-mail that his group views Ehrlich as a "a strong candidate" who can "win the Maryland governorship."
"Our commitment speaks for itself," Schrimpf said in an email. "We are executing our plan. We will continue to execute our plan, but won't disclose it to O'Malley or the national Democratic groups aiding him."
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican governor's group, has said his organization practices "ruthless targeting," according to the Talking Points Memo, a national political blog. "We don't pay for sure winners, we don't pay for sure losers."
But Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, an Ehrlich ally who has been raising money for governors across the country, said the RGA has "a lot of confidence" in Ehrlich. He said that little should be read into changes in ad buys. "There are evaluations that are done every week," he said. "There is a limited budget."
He evaluated the Maryland race as "competitive" and stressed that the organization still has ads up in the D.C. market.
Even though the RGA is awash in money this election cycle, Jennifer Duffy of The Cook Political Report said gubernatorial campaigns compete fiercely for funds. The RGA has "so many mouths to feed," she said. "Maryland is not the only game in town."
She added that most would interpret the reduction as a sign that "the RGA feels like they aren't making any progress."
Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich campaign spokesman, said that Ehrlich always assumed he would have "no help" from outside groups. "We always have and always will plan to win this race based on Ehrlich's vision and O'Malley's failures," he said. "We can only control our campaign."
Ehrlich has blamed his recent sagging poll numbers on the volume of O'Malley ads. Ehrlich's campaign is still funding ads shown in the D.C. suburbs, though he has cut back this week at least one station. He's also still showing television ads in the less expensive Baltimore market, but has so far bought fewer this week than in previous periods.
The RGA had purchased $150,000 in ads for this week on WRC, the NBC affiliate in Washington. But on Monday it cut that in half, according to the station. Last week, the RGA poured $200,000 into the station.
Representatives from other stations in Washington either could not be reached or would not provide the spending information. The RGA has purchased commercial time on stations in the Baltimore area. A review of records Monday showed that those ads were continuing, although the pace of spending had slowed recently.
The RGA's decision came out hours after O'Malley's campaign issued an email begged for money based on a rumor that RGA was "doubling down" in Maryland and infusing an extra $2 million in to the race.