With President Biden’s approval rating now sinking to one of the worst ever recorded (37.7% in the RCP average) and with an unprecedented percentage of Americans polled indicating a “wrong track” direction for the country, Democrats are engaged in a brazen bit of political jiu jitsu.
Rather than defend Biden’s seemingly out-of-control presidency and the growing perception that he’s not in command, Democrats are spending tens of millions of dollars on ads by meddling in Republican primaries.
Far-right GOP candidates are getting advertising boosts from Democrats. By running ads that help fringe Republicans, Democrats hope to face weaker candidates in November.
The ads depict the more radical contenders as “too conservative” – which might be an effective attack in a general election but appeals to Republican voters in primaries. Democrats hope that leads GOP voters to nominate candidates who are less attractive to swing voters in November.
A harbinger for this strategy was Nevada ‘s Harry Reid in 2010. An underdog, Reid faced a hostile Nevada electorate in a difficult election year for Democrats.
Reid meddled in the Republican primary and successfully manipulated the outcome to get the opponent he was most likely to defeat — far-right Republican Sharron Angle. Reid won narrowly in November.
Credited as the inventor of this strategy is former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) who effectively deployed it in 2012. The odds on her winning re-election that year were against her.
During the primaries, she spent $1.7 million attacking her weakest Republican opponent, Rep. Todd Akin, as “too conservative.” That endeared him to the Republican base but he was wiped out in November.
Democrats have already meddled this year in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Colorado Republican primaries. Billionaire Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, spent $32 million labeling his chosen Republican opponent as “too conservative for Illinois.” The ploy worked – Republican voters took the bait.
In Nevada, Democrats used this deceptive tactic in an effort to defeat Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in the June 14 GOP primary. Lombardo was viewed by Democrats as the strongest general election candidate against vulnerable first-term Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak.
The Democratic Governors Association spent $2.1 million portraying Lombardo as soft on crime. Their ad campaign (“slick Joe Lombardo”) misrepresented his record as Clark County sheriff.
In a time of increasing violent crime, Republicans nominating a candidate for governor with a 34-year career in law enforcement made sense. First elected in 2014, Lombardo has a solid conservative record as sheriff. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2018 with 73% of the vote in Democrat-dominated Clark County.
What’s less understandable is the support given former boxer and criminal defense/personal injury lawyer Joey Gilbert in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Democratic political organizations spent millions of dollars propping up candidates like Gilbert.
Gilbert believes “the establishment” is conspiring to deny him his place on the general election ballot and consequently refuses to concede his race to Lombardo despite losing the primary by over 26,000 votes. His demanded recount left the outcome unchanged.
A marijuana dispensary owner and reality TV participant, Gilbert claims without evidence that Trump carried Nevada by 44,000 votes in 2020 and that COVID-19 wasn’t real (and if it was, it was a “plandemic”).
Far-right fringe candidate Gilbert won a plurality of GOP votes in 12 small Nevada counties — including Carson City.
Far-right candidates prevailed in the GOP primary in other statewide races – Jim Marchant (Secretary of State), Michele Fiore (state Treasurer) and Sigal Chattah (Attorney General). They were aided by Democrat-funded ads proclaiming “too conservative for Nevada” to gin up Republican support.
Both Republican strategist Karl Rove and Democratic strategist David Axelrod are critics of the cross-party manipulation tactic. It’s a cynical ploy meant to deceive voters and undermines the legitimacy of elections at a time when we need both parties to produce responsible choices.
E-mail Jim Hartman at email@example.com.
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