Democrats Boost Preferred Republican Candidates In Key Primaries

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Correspondent
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Democrats across the country are spending millions of dollars in an effort to promote Republican candidates that they believe will be weaker in November’s general elections, an analysis of campaign finance records shows.

While the Republican Governors Association (RGA) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) have not spent money in primaries without an incumbent, the Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) has picked up the slack. The DGA is spending more than $17 million in several GOP gubernatorial primaries to promote candidates that Democrats believe will be easier to beat, and outside groups have chipped in millions more in Senate races. Many of the promoted GOP candidates have claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, while their opponents are supported by local and statewide Republican organizations.

The DGA has spent more than $15 million on advertising on Republican candidates in the Illinois governor’s race, the most it has disbursed in any GOP primary so far, according to Politico. The ads have generally sought to portray state Sen. Darren Bailey as too conservative for the state, messaging that would increase his support in a close primary against Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. Despite trailing for most of the race, a poll conducted by the Chicago Sun-Times found Bailey leading Irvin 32%-17%, with 27% of voters undecided.

The DGA-funded ads have noted Irvin’s career as a defense attorney, accusing him of “getting rich while putting violent criminals back on our streets.”

“Bailey opposes sensible gun control, and says he’ll support the Second Amendment at all costs,” another ad claims. “Bailey proudly embraces the Trump agenda, calling into question our elections and fighting for gun owners and the unborn.”


The DGA has also spent heavily against Clark County, Nevada, sheriff Joe Lombardo, who is considered the favorite to take on Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in what is expected to be one of the closest races in the country. (RELATED: Nevada Gov. Sisolak Drops Mask Mandate Ahead Of ‘Toss-Up’ Gubernatorial Race)

The ads have highlighted crime increases in Clark County and Las Vegas, both of which are part of Lombardo’s jurisdiction. DGA is spending $2.1 million on the ads up through Tuesday’s primary, The Nevada Independent reported, claiming that Lombardo is more interested in burnishing his political profile than combating gang violence and drug trafficking.

Murders in Clark County increased 49% in 2021, and property crimes increased 11%, Lombardo announced in February.

The DGA’s opposition to Lombardo serves to boost attorney and former boxer Joey Gilbert, a first-time candidate who is polling 13 points behind the sheriff. Gilbert has received support from disgraced National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and was previously suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after testing positive for steroids and methamphetamine.

Betsy Johnson, an independent candidate and former Democrat running in Oregon, has also received support from DGA. The national organization contributed $65,500 to Oregonians for Ethics, a political action committee dedicated to blasting Johnson as “siding with extreme politicians.” Both the DGA and Oregonians for Ethics are reportedly hoping that Republican voters will support Johnson over Republican nominee Christine Drazan.

A recent poll showed Drazan leading Democratic nominee Tina Kotek by two points, with Johnson in third place garnering 19% support.

In some cases, Democratic candidates themselves are funding ads promoting GOP challengers. Democratic Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro’s campaign funded ads highlighting Republican Doug Mastriano’s positions on abortion and false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. Mastriano illegally entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot and was interviewed by the FBI.

Shapiro defended the decision to boost Mastriano, telling CNN’s Dana Bash that the Republican’s extensive lead in his party’s primary meant that it was not too soon to start campaigning for the general election. (RELATED: Pennsylvania Democrats Ditch Biden Event As His Poll Numbers Tank)

“What we did was start the general election campaign and demonstrate the clear contrast, the stark differences between he and I,” Shapiro claimed. “He is a danger, the contrast couldn’t be clearer. We got a jump-start on the general election and we will continue to point out those clear differences.”

Candidates frequently attempt to promote opponents who they believe are too extreme to win election, a strategy that has historically had mixed results. Then-Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill promoted Republican Rep. Todd Akin as “the most conservative congressman” ahead of their 2012 general election in Missouri, a race she won by 15 points after Akin claimed that women can not become pregnant due to “legitimate rape.”

During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton frequently highlighted Donald Trump’s candidacy out of a desire to avoid a matchup against Sen. Marco Rubio or Gov. Jeb Bush, both of Florida.

A campaign memo described Trump as a “‘pied piper’ candidate who actually represent[s] the mainstream of the Republican Party,” and urged Democratic National Committee members to portray him as such.