In risky midterm strategy, Democrats boost far-right candidate in Michigan race

Rally held by former U.S. President Donald Trump
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By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -The Democratic Party's congressional campaign arm is airing an ad in Michigan aimed at boosting John Gibbs, a far-right candidate endorsed by Donald Trump, as he challenges one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach the former president.

The effort is part of a controversial and risky Democratic strategy in certain races to elevate more extreme Republicans whom Democrats view as easier to beat in November's midterm elections. Democrats have spent millions on candidates who echo Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was rigged, even as party leaders say those very same candidates pose a threat to U.S. democracy.

The Michigan ad, which was produced and financed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), warns that the "Gibbs-Trump agenda is too conservative for west Michigan."

The content suggests Democrats believe touting Gibbs' ties to Trump will increase his popularity among Republican voters, who still view Trump overwhelmingly favorably.

Gibbs is taking on Republican U.S. Representative Peter Meijer in Michigan's Aug. 2 primary. Meijer was among 10 Republican U.S. House members who defied their party and voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. His district, Michigan's 3rd, grew significantly more Democratic this year as a result of the once-a-decade redistricting process.

The ad is the latest gambit by Democrats to promote far-right candidates in the hopes of bettering their odds in November, when Republicans are widely favored to win back control of the House of Representatives.

While it is not new for both parties to interfere in each other's primary elections, Democrats could be playing with fire by promoting the very candidates they are telling America to guard against. If one of those candidates triumphs in November, it would undermine their claim to be the guardians of the country's democracy.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro aired ads to help Republican state Senator Doug Mastriano, who questions the 2020 election results and was present in Washington during the Capitol attack, win his party's nomination. Polls show Shapiro with a narrow lead.

In Maryland, the Democratic Governors Association aired ads highlighting Republican Dan Cox's conservative views. Cox, endorsed by Trump, defeated an establishment Republican in the primary and is seen as an underdog given Maryland's Democratic lean.

And in Illinois, Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire, invested $35 million of his own money to influence the Republican primary, helping Darren Bailey, a far-right state senator, to emerge as his November opponent.

All told, Democratic-affiliated groups had spent nearly $44 million to aid far-right candidates in Republican primaries as of mid-July, according to Open Secrets, a website that tracks campaign finance.

Some Democrats have objected to the tactic. Dean Phillips, a moderate congressman from Minnesota, tweeted on Tuesday: "I'm disgusted that hard-earned money intended to support Democrats is being used to boost Trump-endorsed candidates, particularly the far-right opponent of one of the most honorable Republicans in Congress, @RepMeijer."

In a statement, a Meijer spokesperson said "we are confident that voters will see through Democrats' political games." A DCCC spokesperson declined to comment on the ad.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax, Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)