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A Democratic fundraising strategy for extreme candidates may have affected midterms

A high-risk Democratic strategy — financially supporting far-right Trump-backed Republicans in their primaries — appears to have paid off midterm. As NPR reported on Friday, six Democratic challengers in races where Democratic organizations have donated to hardline Republican candidates have won their contests so far. The question that hangs over this tactic remains unanswered: at what cost?

As the Washington Post reported in SeptemberNational Democratic groups and Political Action Committees (PACs) have spent tens of millions of dollars in at least seven states to elevate Republicans who hold extreme positions on abortion rights and support conspiracy theory according to which former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

Although Tuesday’s midterm elections were extremely close and votes are still being counted in several races, Democrats have fared much better than expected in the weeks leading up to the election. A few days after the race, it is still unclear which party will control Congress in 2022; Since November 12, Republicans and Democrats have each 49 seats in the Senate and House, where 23 races are still in limbo, Democrats are trailing the GOP with 201 seats against 211 for the Republicans.

Some of that is likely due to Democratic spending in the 2022 primaries elevate far right republicans or those closely aligned with Trump. But it’s impossible to know how well this strategy actually worked, and whether the payoffs justify the multimillion-dollar prize.

It’s a strategy some Democrats say is too risky to repeat in 2024 — it undermines the party’s message that it stands up for democracy, could take away resources that could be used for grassroots organizing efforts and could even propelling some far-right extremists and Holocaust deniers. in political office.

Democrats spent millions in primaries to elevate far-right Republicans

The Post in September reported on the phenomenon of Democrats spending millions to promote right-wing candidates over more moderate Republicans in primary races. By their estimate, the party leadership and outside organizations spent nearly $19 million over 12 races — five gubernatorial contests, two Senate races and five congressional races. Separately, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, a billionaire, spent $9.5 million of his own money, combined with about $25 million from the Democratic Governors Association, to push Darren Bailey, a US senator. right-wing state, endorsed by Trump, during the primary season. . Pritzker won the race with an 11-point lead over Bailey to secure his second term, and Bailey conceded.

The Post analysis found that most of the spending was on advertising, which took one of three ways – tying a far-right Republican candidate to Trump and the MAGA movement, as Pennsylvania Governor-elect Josh Shapiro did with his GOP rival Doug Mastriano in hopes that the MAGA base would run in the primaries; attack the most moderate candidate, as Pritzker did; or run ads calling the far-right Republican nominee “too conservative,” as in the Maryland gubernatorial races.

These three specific tactics have plausible deniability. They generally look like attack ads in the context of a general election. It’s the fact that the ads aired during the primary season that marks them as part of a larger strategy – giving the Democrats an easier chance of winning by avoiding a matchup with a more moderate Republican. whom they considered more eligible.

This is not a new strategy – former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill put it to good use in her 2012 run. She called former Rep. Todd Akin, her eventual opponent, “too conservative” focusing on Akin’s endorsements from former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and Akin’s comments. on the fact that President Barack Obama was a “threat to our civilization.” Akin won the primary but quickly sank his own campaign saying abortion wasn’t necessary in the case of ‘legitimate rape’ because ‘the female body has ways of trying to stop it all “. Akin fell into darkness and died last year.

In more than half of the Republican primaries, the Democratic groups have invested financially, they have spent more than the far-right candidates they hoped to eventually defeat, the post found.

Some interference also occurred without money. In Arizona, for example, Trump-backed GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake won her primary against moderate Karrin Taylor Robson after Democrats in Arizona. highlighted his past donations to Democratic candidates.

Christie Roberts, executive director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said post office friday that she and her team tried to sway Trump to endorse the Democrats’ favorite adversaries — or to go after more moderate Republicans he saw as insufficiently loyal.

“Our theory of the case from the start was that we assumed this was going to be a very tough election for us,” she said, “we had to completely discredit and disqualify our opponents.”

How well did this strategy really work? And at what price?

Although Democrats did better than expected midterm — in some pretty crucial races where their interference seems to have paid off — strategists like Tré Easton, deputy director of the Battle Born Collective, a Democratic advisory group, warn against relying on it.

“Basically my view is as a Democrat, I’m glad the bets paid off, but it was still risky and reckless and I hope it doesn’t become a habit,” he said. he told Vox via Twitter DM. “It undermines our arguments about the very real threat to democracy when we spend Democratic dollars supporting anti-democracy people.”

Even though far-right Holocaust deniers like Doug Mastriano did not win on Tuesday, raising them to the national level has other consequences. Former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana denounced the practice alongside 34 other fellow Democrats in an open letter from august.

“It risks elevating these liars and giving them a platform for another three or four months – even if they end up getting beaten up – to get their message across to the electorate and further erode trust,” Roemer told the Post in September. Especially in an election in which Democrats have run to preserve democracy and American institutions, the bet to promote election deniers and conspiracy theorists seems dishonest.

While the Democrats’ big gamble produced some wins and didn’t fail spectacularly, it also didn’t necessarily get the desired results; in fact, in seven of the 13 races in which Democrats have spent to elect a far-right Republican candidate in the primaries, they have failed to the tune of about $12 million, according to the Post’s analysis. Of those seven races, the Democrats have won three and are leading in a fourth, despite more moderate opponents.

“I’m also skeptical about the role Democratic investment plays in relation to Trump’s endorsement and voters’ overall feelings about Trump and the issues,” Easton said.

It’s impossible to prove a negative, but Easton told Vox he thinks the money Democrats used to try to play in the Republican primaries could have been better spent. ” Is the [money] who went to support Dan Cox in medicine made a difference in Nevada? he said – Nevada, where Democrats lost the governorship and where incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is trailing Republican challenger Adam Laxalt by less than 900 votes so far. “We will never know, but it is an open question because of the strategic choices that have been made.”

Democratic organizers and candidates in other races — particularly in Florida and New York — have expressed disappointment with the lack of support from the Democratic Party. In Florida, Republicans crush Democratic candidates throughout the ballot in an old key swing state. Several factors led to the Democrats’ defeat, including low voter turnout and changing demographics, such as Vice News reported on Friday. But the lack of a strong Democratic operation there meant Republicans were outspending and overspending Democratic candidates, contributing to those wins.

In New York, Republicans also fared much better than expected in a deep blue state, winning four congressional seats. One of those losses was Rep. Sean Patrick Maloneyfive-term holder and Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – the organization responsible for supporting and electing Democratic candidates for Congress.

“There’s probably going to be a lot of chest pressure from some Democratic operatives about the success of the strategy,” Easton said, “but I really hope people don’t learn too many lessons from this really weird cycle where the DCCC chairman could spend money and help knock down a blue seat, but couldn’t even save himself in a neighborhood he chose to run in.

What data Democrats get from the results of their meddling and how they choose to spend money for the 2024 election will depend on a number of key events, including whether Trump decides to run for office again. presidency. According to Easton, this could cause Democrats to invest more in their high-risk bet, spending millions more, interfering in more races and increasing their chances of failure dramatically.

“I think Trump’s presence on the scene is enough incentive for the Democrats to spend a lot to manipulate the primaries,” he said. “A risk that usually pays off is good. To do it again during a cycle where so much will fundamentally be at stake is malpractice and, arguably, immoral.