According to a Washington Post analysis, Democrats have spent nearly $19 million this year in primaries across eight states amplifying far-right Republican candidates who have questioned or denied the validity of the 2020 election, interfering in GOP contests to elevate rivals they see as easier to defeat in November, even when those candidates have promoted false or baseless claims.
This year’s practice by some campaigns and outside groups has divided Democrats, with some claiming that such tactics are risky and could lead to the election of candidates who pose serious threats to democracy.
The strategy frequently includes TV ads implying that a far-right Republican candidate is too conservative for a state or district, as well as highlighting the candidate’s hardline views on abortion, guns, and former President Donald Trump — messages that resonate with conservative primary voters. In other cases, Democrats have run ads criticizing GOP candidates who are perceived to be more difficult to defeat in general elections, potentially eroding support for them in Republican primaries.
When a ninth state, Illinois, is included, total Democratic spending rises to around $53 million. There, the Democratic Governors Association and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) campaign spent a combined $34.5 million successfully elevating a Republican candidate who has called it “appalling” that party leaders in Illinois wanted Trump to concede the 2020 election. Some Democrats justify their actions by claiming that they are simply getting a head start on attacking Republican candidates in the general election, while others openly admit that they are attempting to secure weaker competition in the fall. However, there is little disagreement about the impact of changing the Republican primaries in ways that could influence the November matchups.
As the primary season comes to a close on Tuesday, Democrats are reviving the strategy in two congressional races in New Hampshire. Senate Majority PAC, a group affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), is spending $3.2 million in the Republican Senate primary on ads that effectively boost the candidacy of ret. General Don Bolduc, by portraying his more moderate opponent, state Senate President Chuck Morse, who has trailed Bolduc in Republican primary polls, as beholden to the party establishment.
Bolduc has stated that he “concurred” with Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged and signed a letter with other retired military leaders claiming that the FBI and Supreme Court ignored “election irregularities” in 2020 without providing evidence. In a statement, Senate Majority PAC spokeswoman Veronica Yoo said the spending was a response to Morse’s attacks on TV against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), which the group “won’t sit idly by” and tolerate.
Earlier this year, some Democrats emphasized a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate’s conservative credentials. A Colorado House member convened a state legislative hearing into allegations of 2020 voter fraud despite the lack of evidence; a Senate candidate in the same state who was not in the United States. A Maryland gubernatorial candidate who tweeted “Mike Pence is a traitor” as the insurgency at the U.S. Capitol began on Jan. 6, 2021, and described the attack as a “peaceful rally”; and a Maryland gubernatorial candidate who tweeted “Mike Pence is a traitor” as the insurgency at the U.S. A pro-Trump mob was storming the Capitol. Their efforts highlighted a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Nevada who stated that Trump “is still our president” months after Biden’s inauguration.
Critics argue that these investments undermine the party’s pledge to protect democracy. Worse yet, they say, in a difficult political climate for Democrats, they fear it might lead to electing the very candidates they perceive to present the biggest threats to the country.
According to the Post analysis, the majority of the money spent across the country has gone toward TV commercials, with some campaigns making larger investments than the GOP candidates. This occurred in at least seven races, including one in the United States. According to The Washington Post’s data, Democrats spent more than twice as much as the Republican candidate they were supporting in California; nine times as much as the Republican candidate they were supporting in Maryland; and at least 30 times as much as the Republican candidate whose message they were amplifying in Colorado.