Democrats are trying to steer the Republican primaries to an all-time high ahead of November’s midterm elections, spending millions to promote GOP candidates they view as weak — even if those candidates embrace the lies same on the 2020 elections that the party calls an existential threat to democracy.
National Democratic groups and leading Democratic candidates have spent millions of dollars in Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and Pennsylvania to promote Republicans who both parties say will struggle to win, even in a political environment. shaped by high inflation and a low approval rating from President Joe Biden.
Working to sway the other party’s primaries has become commonplace for Democrats and Republicans alike, in the years since former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) promoted the late far-right Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) then she could face him in his 2012 Senate bid. But the scale and expense of current Democratic efforts — public spending now tops $10 million — has little precedent. .
Picking their opponent has paid off in the past for Democrats. They have their minimum Senate majority in part because they worked to secure an easier opponent for Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) in 2018. But the GOP’s growing authoritarian leanings, the desire of conservative candidates to embracing the former president Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and the Republican-leaning political environment make these maneuvers a trickier proposition.
Democratic operatives have generally defended their efforts to shape the Republican primaries as a bare-knuckle but necessary tactic to survive in a difficult political environment, noting that ads that promote a candidate to GOP primary voters can also serve as effective attacks to a general electoral public.
But experts on both left and among “Never Trump” conservatives criticized the strategy as risky and reminiscent of the party’s 2016 hopes that Trump himself, a supposedly “ineligible” candidate, would secure the GOP presidential nomination.
“In an environment like this, you want to face a candidate who gives you the best chance of winning. But there are no guarantees in this business,” said Mike Mikus, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist. “But sometimes you have to push the bishop above and play the odds.”
In Pennsylvania, Mikus declared himself a “schizophrenic” following far-right Sen. Doug Mastriano’s victory in the GOP gubernatorial primary last month. Mastriano, who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, and fully embraced Trump’s campaign lies, is widely considered ineligible. But $5 gas could turn the politically impossible into a plausible outcome.
“For Mastriano to win, it would have to be an absolute disaster like we’ve never seen. But the environment is bad and it could get worse,” Mikus said.
The latest example of this type of Democratic betting is in Colorado, where a freshly formed group, the Colorado Democrats, began running ads attacking state Rep. Ron Hanks (right), calling him ” too conservative”. The ads are a clear attempt to educate GOP voters and their opinion of Hanks, who attended the Jan. 6 rally outside the U.S. Capitol and raised only paltry sums for his campaign.
“He says Joe Biden’s election was a fraud. Hanks wants to ban all abortions and he wants to build Trump’s border wall,” a narrator says in the 30-Second ad, which began airing Wednesday.
Hanks’ dedication to election denial is real: his campaign opening ad showed him blowing up a Dominion voting machine. He also admitted to walking through the police barricades during the insurgency — though he also claimed the event was a false flag operation, with Black Lives Matter and antifa activists breaching the Capitol.
That has led some Colorado Democrats to question the strategy behind the spots.
“It’s harmful to democracy,” said Dan Grossman, a former Colorado state legislator. wrote on Twitter. “Americans who value the rule of law, regardless of party and partisan advantage, should ensure that seditionists like Hanks never see the ballot as a major party candidate.”
The timing of the ad’s launch was no coincidence. Wednesday was the first day a group could start running ads without having to reveal its donors before Hanks faced Joe O’Dea, a relatively moderate businessman, in the June 28 Republican primary. Unlike Hanks, O’Dea recognized Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. Neither candidate is particularly well-known, and the winner will face Democratic Senator Michael Bennett in November.
In the past, the Senate Majority PAC — a super PAC controlled by allies of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) — has funded pop-up groups like Democratic Colorado to try to influence the primaries. of the GOP.
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which is barred from coordinating directly with super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, appeared to request ads highlighting Hanks’ conservatism and disparaging O’Dea for supporting the Democrats in the past with a post on a public website.
O’Dea’s campaign said the interference is proof he is a real threat to Bennet in blue-tinged Colorado, and released an internal poll showing him with a healthy lead over Hanks before the start of the battles. Colorado Democrat ads.
“[Democrats] are going to try to steal this election, because they don’t want to spend the money that they’re going to have to spend on me this fall,” O’Dea said in a radio interview Thursday. “I am a real candidate.
So far, however, the Democratic Governors Association has been the most proactive in the GOP primaries, taking steps to shape contests in Illinois, Colorado and Nevada. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the party’s candidate for governor in Keystone State, also ran ads aimed at ensuring he would face Mastriano in the general election.
Mastriano, who would have the power to appoint Pennsylvania’s top election official if he wins the governorship, won with the former president’s endorsement. He suggested he would refuse to certify the 2024 election unless a Republican won.
Shapiro’s ads, which similarly attacked Mastriano as a far-right conservative, were probably not the determining factor in his victory. He consistently led the polls, news outlets routinely covered his story with extreme views, and Pennsylvania’s other top GOP gubernatorial candidates also endorsed Trump’s lies about the election.
“It’s not our fault Republican voters in Pennsylvania wanted this,” said a Democratic operative who worked on the race, providing a link to a story about Mastriano’s long history of comparing events to the race. ‘Holocaust.
Trump’s election denial holds considerable power over many GOP candidates and voters, and it has led some Democrats to conclude that the threat to democracy will be the same no matter which candidate makes it to the general election.
“Sometimes in campaigns, the difference between the ‘moderate’ candidate and the ‘extreme’ candidate is just in the rhetoric, and really their political positions ― or their willingness to disregard the will of the people ― are little nearly the same,” said Adam Bozzi, the communications director of the liberal group End Citizens United. “A radical disguised as a moderate can be very dangerous for democracy.”
In its various efforts to shape the GOP primaries, the Democratic Governors Association has tried to downplay the odds of the GOP establishment’s favorite candidates – Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in Nevada, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl and Illinois State Senator Richard Irvin.
Yet Democrats don’t have to go far back to see the potential risks of their strategy. In 2020, National Democrats spent millions trying to boost former Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Trump acolyte and anti-immigration fanatic, thinking he would give their Senate candidate, State Senator Barbara Bollier, a chance to win in a typically red state.
The campaign failed, with Republicans nominating Representative Roger Marshall instead. Marshall went on to beat Bollier in the Senate race by nearly 12 percentage points — a margin indicating Kobach almost certainly would have won the overall as well.