Democrat gamble to prop up far-right rivals pays off at midterms
It was decried as risky and even a threat to democracy – but the Democrats’ gamble of helping far-right, election-denying candidates to earn Republican nominations for key midterm races appears to have paid off.
Democrats spent millions of dollars boosting the primary campaigns of radical Republicans, initially helping them to fend off more moderate alternatives from within their party, only to defeat them handily in Tuesday’s nationwide votes.
In Maryland, election-denier Dan Cox — who was dubbed a “QAnon whack job” by the state’s outgoing governor, a fellow Republican — benefited from at least $1.7 million in Democratic support to earn a place on his party’s midterm ticket, according to a Washington Post analysis.
He lost on Tuesday to Democrat Wes Moore, who becomes the state’s first Black governor.
And Democrats put a whopping $34.5 million behind Donald Trump-backed Darren Bailey’s bid to be Republican candidate for Illinois governor, buying television ads highlighting his links to the former president and painting his rivals as centrist.
Thanks to a groundswell in support from Trump’s base, Bailey won the party’s nomination, before being soundly beaten at Tuesday’s midterms by Democratic incumbent JB Pritzker, who painted him as an extremist and too dangerous to serve as governor.
The strategy of interfering with the other party’s primary to boost its weaker candidates is not new, but it has drawn more attention this year.
The tactic has been labeled hypocritical, amid the Democrats’ repeated public insistence that democracy itself was at stake in the midterms.
And it had the potential to significantly backfire, critics say, if even a handful of election-denying Republicans won control of key state-level offices.
“Boy, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee got a lot of grief about it at the time — but now it looks like a very wise move,” said California-based strategist Steven Maviglio.
“Assisting the (election) deniers in achieving higher offices was a risky gamble. But it paid off.”
– Roll the dice –
Other far-right Republicans who also lost their midterm races after receiving Democratic help to get on the ticket included Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc and Robert Burns in New Hampshire, and John Gibbs in Michigan.
In some races where Democratic spending did not manage to get their far-right rivals nominated, more moderate Republicans won or appeared likely to win Tuesday’s vote.
For instance, in a US House seat representing rural California, Democrats narrowly failed to tip the balance in favor of Trump loyalist Chris Mathys for the Republican candidacy.
A Democratic fundraising group spent $350,000 on primaries in the seat, some of which was used to remind Republican voters that Mathys’s rival David Valadao was one of the few in his party who voted to impeach Trump.
Valadao still won the Republican nomination, and is on course to defeat his Democratic rival as Tuesday’s votes are tallied.
“I don’t think they went in hard enough,” said Maviglio, of the Democratic strategy.
In neighboring Nevada, Republicans took Democratic money earmarked to boost a divisive candidate for the state’s governor, and spent it instead on Jim Marchant, an election-denying nominee for secretary of state.
With vote-counting still under way, Marchant is narrowly winning his race, for a position which grants extensive oversight of future votes — potentially handing him the power to shape rules to the advantage of his favored candidates.
But Maviglio said he expects to see the tactic used more frequently in the future, even despite the reservations of its critics.
“Rank-and-file voters don’t get it, and a lot of progressives don’t like it,” he said.
“But the people that know how to run and win campaigns? Everything’s on the table in terms of strategy.
“It’s risky. No doubt about it. It’s a big roll of the dice,” Maviglio added.
“But like most big gambles, when they pay off, they pay off big.”