Gov. LePage told Republicans what to expect this year, way back at the party’s convention in April.

“This will be probably the nastiest campaign you’ve ever seen in the state of Maine,” LePage said. What he didn’t say is that his side would throw the first low blow.

An ad by the Republican Governors Association that tries to exploit the Southwestern border crisis for cheap political points here is both misleading and mean-spirited. It exploits anger and fear and makes a political weapon out of immigrants who are here legally and could be killed or tortured if forced to return to their home countries. This is no way to ask people to make good choices about the future, and the association should stop running it.

In the ad, a woman’s voice asks: “Do you think Maine cities and towns should continue to use your tax dollars to pay welfare benefits to illegal immigrants? Mike Michaud does.”

The ad goes on to show a montage of worried faces of people supposed to be Maine taxpayers, and images of men standing in dark, wet places, suggesting they just sneaked across the Rio Grande. The ad suggests that Michaud’s policies would draw these men to the Pine Tree State with the promise of easy welfare.

The ad does refer to a real-life controversy, but it is so far off the mark as to be unrecognizable.

The LePage administration has ordered cities and towns to stop providing General Assistance to asylum-seeking immigrants, even though doing so is required by state law. The aid, which is not offered in every state, is crucial because new asylum seekers don’t have permission to work while they are waiting for a determination of their status by overloaded immigration courts, an often long and drawn-out process.

The Maine Municipal Association has filed a lawsuit that would give municipalities guidance on how to proceed. Michaud released a statement saying he was critical of LePage’s position and his approach.

If all the ad did was take Michaud’s position to an absurd extreme, this would be about what you would expect to see in a hotly contested election.

But this ad actually goes further, because it takes advantage of vulnerable people whose lives are in danger, and makes it look as if helping them should be something to be ashamed of.

The ad repeatedly uses the term “illegal immigrant,” but people who are seeking asylum are not here illegally. They enter the country on legal visas and apply for permission to stay. They have to prove that if they were returned to their home country, they would be tortured or killed. It’s a process that can take years.

While going through the court process they are here legally, even if their original visa expires. It is a willful distortion to suggest that these are people who are committing a crime just by being here. It’s cruel to use their uncertain status as a political club to beat up on an opponent.

Gov. LePage is barred by law from coordinating with the Republican Governors Association, but this ad is consistent with his rhetoric and he doesn’t have to approve the message to be held accountable for it. He could denounce it, but we don’t expect that he will.

He’s right about one thing, though: It is a nasty campaign already, and it’s just getting started.