Dems meddled in GOP primaries. Was it worth it?

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THE BIG IDEA: Dems meddled in GOP primaries. Was it worth it?

President Joe Biden speaks at Delaware State University on Oct. 21, 2022, in Dover, Del. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Joe Biden speaks at Delaware State University on Oct. 21, 2022, in Dover, Del. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Democrats took the unusual (but not unprecedented) step of meddling in a number of Republican primaries this year. The idea was to encourage GOP primary voters to pick far-right candidates whom Democrats could ultimately clobber in November.

The effort was controversial from the start. The Republican candidates the Democrats were spending money to promote were mostly conspiracy theorists who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election. So while Democrats were portraying their party as the last bulwark of American democracy, they were elevating and rooting for adherents of former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” against more moderate GOP candidates.

The Democratic meddling follows a familiar playbook. The party will usually pay for ads emphasizing a right-wing candidate’s conservative bona fides and closeness to Trump. The ads are outwardly critical of the candidate, but the subtext is always clear: This is the true conservative in the race, and the person real Republicans should vote for in the primary.

In August, the New York Times’ editorial board called this strategy “a cynical low for the Democratic Party.” But ethics and morality aside, was it a smart idea for Democrats to boost fringe GOP candidates in the past few months?

In Illinois, according to a Washington Post analysis, Democrats spent a whopping $34.5 million to boost state Sen. Darren Bailey in his gubernatorial primary battle against a more moderate Republican mayor. That effort appears to have worked as Democrats intended, with the incumbent, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat and a billionaire who could spend heavily on the race, routinely leading Bailey by double digits in public polling.

Similar (albeit less expensive) gubernatorial gambits elsewhere appear also to have panned out, with Democrat-backed MAGA Republicans like Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano and Maryland’s Dan Cox faltering in their respective contests. Cox has been disowned by the outgoing Maryland Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan, who has called his would-be replacement a “QAnon whack job.” Democrats spent nearly $3 million combined backing Cox and Mastriano in their primaries.

Democrats also helped two Republican House candidates who won their primaries but are now struggling.

In Michigan’s Third Congressional District, a former Trump aide, John Gibbs, triumphed over freshman GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year. Gibbs, though raising little money on his own, won the primary with Trump’s endorsement — and $425,000 in Democratic spending. The Cook Political Report currently rates the Third Congressional District race as “Lean Democratic.”

And in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, Democrats spent $100,000 in a successful effort to boost a right-wing candidate Robert Burns, who is now facing off against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. The Cook Political Report currently rates that race as “Lean Democratic” as well.

In New Hampshire’s Senate race, Democrats spent more than $3 million to elevate Don Bolduc, a MAGA-aligned former Army colonel who defeated a more moderate Republican. That also gets the “Lean Democratic” label from Cook, although a new Emerson College poll shows Bolduc moving up in his race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.

Things are a bit trickier for Arizona Democrats. While they didn’t buy airtime to boost Kari Lake, the hard-right former newscaster who is now the GOP’s candidate for governor, the state Democratic Party did give her a helping hand.

Lake was struggling some in her primary bid this summer when Arizona Democrats decided to publicly thank her more moderate GOP opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson, for donating to Democrats over the years. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., likewise tweeted numerous times about Taylor Robson’s past support for his campaigns.

Lake, who continues to baselessly insist that 2020 election was rigged,

went on to win her primary by about five points. And she increasingly looks like the favorite to become Arizona’s next governor over Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, which has Democrats worried that Lake will try to rig the 2024 presidential election in Arizona for the Republican nominee.


Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and Democratic candidate for US Senator John Fetterman speaks to supporters at a
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and Democratic candidate for US Senator John Fetterman speaks to supporters at a "Get Out the Vote" rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 26, 2022. (Branden Eastwood/AFP via Getty Images)

Some of the most important Senate races in the country remain effectively tied as we head into the final days of the campaign season. Broadly speaking, this is good news for Republicans, who have seen their odds of taking the Senate increase as of late.

In Ohio, Republican J.D. Vance has eked out a small lead over Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan. In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is likewise barely ahead of his Republican rival, Herschel Walker, although the most recent polls give Warnock a small edge. And in Pennsylvania, the Republican candidate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, remains within striking distance of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Meanwhile, things appear to be looking up for GOP Senate candidates out West. Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is locked in an uncomfortably close race with her Republican opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt. In Arizona, the Republican Blake Masters — whom the national GOP seemed content to leave for dead just a few weeks ago — may have some momentum in his race to defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.


US House of Representatives candidate Sarah Palin speaks on stage during a
US House of Representatives candidate Sarah Palin speaks on stage during a "Save America" rally before former US President Donald Trump in Anchorage, Alaska on July 9, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Democrats may not keep the House next month, but it does look as if they could hold onto Alaska’s sole congressional seat. In August, Democrat Mary Peltola won the special election to replace the late Republican Rep. Don Young, who had represented Alaska in the House for decades until he died earlier this year at age 88.

Although it’s famously tricky to poll United States’ largest and most sparsely populated state, Peltola does seem to have the edge, despite Alaska’s lean to Republicans. A Yupik and the first Alaska Native in Congress, Peltola has been embraced by a number of prominent Republicans in the state, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski and several aides to Young.

Alaska’s way of doing elections is unique and a bit complicated (if you want to know more, our Jon Ward has written all about it). But in any event, Peltola benefits from having not one, but two Republican challengers: former Gov. Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, the grandson of former Democratic Rep. Nick Begich.

Palin, obviously, is a national figure, and she’s mounting a comeback run with Trump’s endorsement. But it’s Begich who has attracted most of the drama as of late. Last week, he launched an attack ad saying that if Peltola wins, “Alaskans will face the shock and awe of inflation plus taxation.” To drive the point home, the ad features footage of a World War II-era military plane on a bombing run. (The ad was mocked by Young’s former communications director, who noted how similar it was to a Young ad from 2008.)

Young’s former communications director, Zack Brown, quickly noted that Begich’s commercial was very similar to a Young ad from 2008. Many former Young staffers have reportedly soured on Begich, who worked for Young before announcing that he would run against the congressman. Young died before that could happen, but Brown, for example, has accused Begich of joining Young’s team just to spy on him.

Begich’s recent attack on Peltola was the exception to what has been, in some ways, a remarkably civil contest. "I love her dearly,” Palin, a politician not known for complimenting Democrats, said of Peltola last week at an Alaskan Federation of Natives candidate forum. “I'm as proud of her as all of you are."

“Doggone it, I never have anything left to gripe about her,” Palin continued. “I just wish she’d convert on over to the other party.”


Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Aug. 5, 2022.  (LM Otero/AP)
Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Aug. 5, 2022. (LM Otero/AP)

Yahoo News’ Andrew Romano looks at the appeal of Kari Lake, the ultra-MAGA Republican who’s leading the polls to become Arizona’s next governor.

“She’s a local celebrity,” one Arizona pollster and consultant told Romano. “She’s great with an audience. She’s great on camera. She’s a more polished version of Trump. And because of all that, she's put herself in a position where she’s tied this thing up.”

Read the full story here.


Tina Kotek in her recent campaign ad. (Tinafororegon via YouTube)
Tina Kotek in her recent campaign ad. (Tinafororegon via YouTube)

Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate for governor of Oregon, has a new ad out criticizing outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. Kotek is currently running neck and neck with Christine Drazan, the Republican nominee for governor, in what is typically a Democratic stronghold.

“Nobody in Oregon would say, ‘Let's keep doing exactly what we've been doing,’” Kotek says in the ad. “Certainly not me. I called for a homelessness state of emergency nearly three years ago while Kate Brown did nothing and Christine Drazan killed efforts to make our streets safer. … We certainly don't need a red state takeover to clean up the damn trash.”