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The Democrats’ gamble: Helping GOP extremists in the spring, hoping to beat them in the fall

Even as National Democrats raise alarm bells over threats posed by far-right Republican candidates, their campaign partners are pursuing an extremely risky strategy: promoting some of those same far-right candidates in the GOP primaries in the United States. hope that the extremists will be easier on the Democrats. beat in November.

Those efforts — most prominent in California’s Central Valley, where a Democratic campaign ad lashed out at Rep. David Valadao, a Republican, for voting to impeach Donald J. Trump — have sparked angry accusations and debate within of the party on perils and wisdom. strategy, especially amid the Jan. 6 Committee hearings on the Capitol attack.

The concern is obvious: In a year when soaring gas prices and disorienting inflation have crushed President Biden’s approval ratings, Republican candidates whom Democrats might deem ineligible may well win on the basis of of their party affiliation.

“I realize this type of political game has been around forever, but our country is now in a very different position than we were in previous cycles,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, Democrat of New York. “For these Democrat groups to throw money away to uplift someone they know wants to tear down this democracy is outrageous.”

Republican targets questioned how they were supposed to stand up to their leadership and take tough votes if their former Democratic Party allies were waiting.

“I voted the way I voted because I thought it was important,” Mr Valadao said of his impeachment vote. “But to put us in a position where we vote for these things and then try to use them as ammunition against us in campaigns, and put people who they see as potentially a threat to democracy in a position where they can become members of Congress, that tells me they’re not serious about governing.

The Democratic effort extends far beyond Mr. Valadao’s race. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party singled out State Senator Doug Mastriano during his successful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, despite his spreading false claims about the 2020 election and his participation in the Jan. 6 protest behind the White House that immediately preceded the Capitol Riot.

In Southern California, a Democratic House candidate, Asif Mahmood, flooded the airwaves in Orange County with ads that portrayed his race as a contest between him and an anti-abortion conservative, Greg Raths, helping Mr. Raths never mentioning the leading Republican in the race, Rep. Young Kim, the incumbent and a much more moderate candidate. Instead, he highlighted Mr Raths’ support for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the abortion ban and his affinity for “pro-Trump Republicans” — positions as likely to please Republican primary voters as they will anger Democrats in the general election. (The effort was unsuccessful: Ms. Kim retained Mr. Raths and qualified for the November election against Mr. Mahmood.)

And in Colorado, a shadowy new group called Democratic Colorado is spending nearly $1.5 million ahead of the June 28 state primary to air the conservative views of state Rep. Ron Hanks, who hopes to challenge the senator. Michael Bennet, an incumbent Democrat. Mr. Hanks’ views are widely believed to be shared by Republican primary voters. For now, Mr. Hanks does not mention the bragging about marching to the Capitol on Jan. 6, his false claim that those who attacked the Capitol were leftist “antifa” and his baseless insistence that that the 2020 election was stolen by President Biden. .

Alvina Vasquez, spokesperson for the Colorado Democrat, would not say who was funding the group and insisted the ads were nothing to be untoward.

“It’s important to highlight who is running on the Republican side,” she said, adding, “The general election is coming up.”

But Ms. Vasquez conceded the group had only one target: Mr. Hanks, not the most moderate Republican in the primary, businessman Joe O’Dea. The Bennet campaign declined to comment.

The Democrats involved acknowledge the game they are playing, but insist they have only one job – to preserve their party’s slim majority in the House – and that they only target races where candidates extremists cannot win in November.

“House Majority PAC was founded on a mission to do whatever it takes to achieve a Democratic majority in the House and in 2022 that is what we will continue to do,” said Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of the committee, which is affiliated with the Democratic leadership.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, defended his campaign ad declaring a victory for Mr. Mastriano in the Republican gubernatorial primary as “a victory for what Donald Trump stands for.”

“What we’ve done is kick off the general election campaign and demonstrate the stark contrast, the stark differences between him and me,” Shapiro said on CNN.

But it’s unclear whether Democrats will be able to keep tabs on what they might trigger, especially in a year when their party’s chairman is suffering from record approval ratings and inflation has hit. rates not seen for 40 years. A Suffolk University poll released on Wednesday found that Mr Shapiro was just 4 percentage points ahead of Mr Mastriano in the crucial race for state governor.

No matter how sure Democratic insiders are about their odds against hardline Republicans, the danger inherent in the game-with-fire approach brings up heartbreaking memories for some Democrats.

After all, they also believed that Mr. Trump’s 2016 nomination was a surefire ticket to a Hillary Clinton presidency.

Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic senator from Missouri, arguably created the modern kind of meddling in the other party’s nominating process, running an ad in 2012 lifting far-right Congressman Todd Akin to the Republican Senate primary.

But Ms McCaskill said the years since have raised the stakes too high in all but a few races.

“No one believed – including Donald Trump – that he would be elected president,” Ms McCaskill said. “Campaigns need to be very restrained in their decision-making. They must be confident that they can win if the most extreme candidate is elevated to the nomination.

Rep. Peter Meijer, a Republican from Michigan, was particularly furious that the Democratic majority PAC spent nearly $40,000 in media markets in Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif., running an ad castigating Mr. Valadao for his vote of impeachment, while promoting his opponent as “a true conservative”

It’s impossible to say what impact the announcement had, but with votes in California’s 22nd congressional district still being counted, Mr. Valadao clings to a 1,400-vote lead over Mr. Mathys for the final spot in the second round in November.

“Chris Mathys, pro-Trump Republican: military veteran, local businessman,” the Democratic ad said. “Or politician David Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump. Republicans – it’s time to decide.

The ad came ahead of the January 6 hearings, which praised Republicans for standing up to Mr. Trump. But by using those votes against those Republicans for political gain, said Mr. Meijer — another of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for inciting the Capitol riot — Democratic campaigns had trivialized the question, even as the hearings raised it. as a deadly threat to the American experience.

And that, Mr. Meijer said, made it easier for Republicans to dismiss the hearings as political theater.

Mr. Meijer, whose own primary against a Trump-backed opponent looms on Aug. 2, condemned the Democratic dissonance as “deep moralizing amid befitting hypocrisy.” Already, he said, the loudest voices promoting his chief opponent, John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who once accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief of performing rituals satanic, are those of the Democrats, not the Republicans.

For Democrats, the clear precedent is Ms. McCaskill’s near-legendary ad promoting Mr. Akin as her opponent for re-election in 2012. Two other Republicans in the primary that year would have been far more formidable opponents in a Republican-leaning state, with Barack Obama on the ballot for re-election. Mr. Akin, by comparison, was underfunded, unruly and, she said, “a little weird”.

The words of the ad might have threatened general election voters, but Ms McCaskill’s list of details against Mr Akin – read in friendly, singsong narration – was music to the ears of Republican primary voters: ‘a crusader against a bigger government,” with a “pro-family agenda” that would ban many forms of contraception. “And Akin is the only one who says President Obama is a total threat to our civilization.”

“Todd Akin, the real Missouri conservative,” the ad said, using a pregnant pause, before ending, “is just too conservative.”

Mr. Akin went on to win the Republican primary by a plurality of votes and then lost to Ms. McCaskill by nearly 16 percentage points.

Ms. McCaskill said that in some constituencies, like Mr. Valadao’s, where voters lean heavily towards the Democrats, the tactic remains valid. But, she added, the stakes are much higher in 2022 than they were a decade ago.

“I decided internally that I was okay with the idea that I could be responsible for his nomination for United States Senator,” she said of Mr. Akin, adding that she could not have made the same calculation for some of the current ones. harvest of republicans.

Beyond individual candidates, the Republican leadership has changed, McCaskill added. His bet that Mr. Akin’s unruly propensity to talk paid off when Mr. Akin said victims of sexual assaults don’t get pregnant because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the body female has ways of trying to stop all of this.” .”

Beyond the damage caused by those words, Mr. Akin’s own party turned him into an outcast, shunning him and ensuring his defeat. Republican leaders cannot be counted on to shut out candidates this campaign season, she said.

Ms. Rice made the same point, adding that every dollar spent meddling in a Republican primary is a dollar not spent directly on helping endangered Democratic incumbents.

“We should support our own front-liners,” she said, “and not bet on seditionists.”


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