Democrats splurge on ads for Trump candidates in ‘cynical’ electoral ploy

·3 min read
Doug Mastriano - Marc Levy/AP
Doug Mastriano - Marc Levy/AP

Democrats are putting money behind pro-Trump Republican congressional candidates that they have a better chance of winning against in the upcoming midterm elections.

The strategy has been described as “cynical” by some political operatives, while others believe promoting the candidates will ultimately turn off voters at the polls in November.

Political groups and non-profits aligned with the Democratic Party have already spent nearly $44 million (£36 million) on advertising campaigns across five states – California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland – to boost the profile of certain right-wing candidates.

Ahead of the primary for the governor’s race in Pennsylvania, Democrat Josh Shapiro began running an advert highlighting the conservative views of state senator Doug Mastriano.

Mr Mastriano is an anti-abortionist who has been accused of having links to an anti-Semitic far-right group. He said this week that he rejects anti-Semitism “in any form”. He is also a promoter of Mr Trump’s false stolen election claims.

Observers suggested Mr Shapiro was trying to tip the scales in favour of Mr Mastriano on the theory that he would be easier to beat than one of the more traditional Republican candidates seeking their party’s gubernatorial nomination.

‘Send him a thank you card’

The $840,000 Mr Shapiro paid for ads was more than double what Mr Mastriano – who ended up beating his more moderate opponent by 23 points – spent. “I’m going to have to send him a thank you card,” he said, after seeing Mr Shapiro’s ads.

In Illinois, Democratic governor JB Pritzker and the Democratic Governors Association spent $35 million on adverts attempting to influence Illinois’ Republican gubernatorial primary – more than any office is believed to have ever spent to meddle in another party’s primary – putting Illinois’ gubernatorial race on track to be the most expensive non-presidential election in US history.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) paid $425,000 for a TV advert boosting the challenger to representative Peter Meijer, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted against his party to impeach Mr Trump last year.

When Sean Patrick Maloney, DCCC chair, was asked about GOP primary meddling, he told MSNBC: “I think you might see us do that, sure.”

A new poll suggests that Democrat strategy of promoting pro-Trump candidates like Mr Mastriano to turn off potential voters is working. The 58-year-old retired colonel is now leading.

Todd Akin - Sarah Conrad/Reuters
Todd Akin - Sarah Conrad/Reuters

The strategy was notably first used by Claire McCaskill, then Democratic Senator from Missouri, in her 2012 race. Her campaign spent $1.7 million on an advertising blitz during the GOP primary to highlight the conservative credentials of candidate Todd Akin.

Mr Akin, who had been down in the polls before the broadcast, ended up winning the primary, going down to Ms McCaskill in the general election.

However, there is considerably more risk to Democrats now, as fringe candidates might actually win in the political environment of 2022.

Not all Democrats are fans of the strategy. “I think it’s very dangerous and potentially very risky to elevate people who are hostile to democracy,” political strategist Howard Wolfson said. “Either this is a crisis moment or it isn’t. And if it is – which it is – you don’t play cute in a crisis.”

Some see such political moves as helping to legitimise and normalise political platforms that otherwise would have been viewed as extreme.

Adam Kinzinger, a prominent anti-Trump Republican, called it “disgusting”. “Don’t come to me after having spent money supporting an election denier in a primary, and then come to me and say ‘where are all the good Republicans?’"