Democrats faced criticism this year for investing nearly $19 million in the primary races of far-right Republican candidates, but their gamble appeared to pay off on election night.
According to an analysis by The Washington Post, Democrats intervened in 13 primary races to support the more extreme right-wing Republican, in the hopes that the Republican would be easier to defeat in the general election against a Democratic opponent. Of the six of those Republicans who won the primary, all of them lost their general election races by Wednesday.
It was a risky strategy. Rachel Orey, associate director of the Elections Project at the at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, called the Democrats’ investments in far-right Republicans “irresponsible politics.” “It’s incredibly short sighted to support… extreme election deniers,” she told TIME in an interview prior to Election Day.
By Tuesday evening, Republicans Dan Cox and Darren Bailey lost their gubernatorial races for Maryland and Illinois respectively, according to the Associated Press. Both candidates are election deniers who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but received millions of dollars in a boosts from Democrats during their primaries, according to the Post.
Doug Mastriano, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Pennsylvania and a loyal Trump supporter who also falsely believes the 2020 election was stolen, received a Trump endorsement just a week before the primary elections, and was also boosted by the Democrats with $1.2 million. On Tuesday evening, Mastriano lost the race to Democrat Josh Shapiro, according to the Associated Press.
Democrats also invested heavily in New Hampshire, pouring in $3.2 million, according to the Post, to back the Republican candidate for Senate Don Bolduc, a Trump-endorsed candidate who ultimately lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, according to the Associated Press. Democrats also invested $100,000 in the Republican U.S. House race for New Hampshire’s 2nd district, which went to Democrat Ann Kuster, according to the Associated Press.
One of the closest races was in Michigan. Democrats backed election denier John Gibbs, who won a primary race against Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol. Gibbs ended up losing Michigan’s third district to Democrat Hillary Scholten, according to the Associated Press.
While the gambit paid off, Democrats faced fierce criticism from members of their own party for supporting candidates who believe the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. They risked elevating election deniers to Congress who could further sow distrust in the American election process.
A group of 35 former Democratic elected officials published an open letter over the summer criticizing the party for taking the risk. “It is risky and unethical to promote any candidate whose campaign is based on eroding trust in our elections. We must stop this practice, and stop today,” the Aug. 1 letter reads. “Our democracy is fragile, therefore we cannot tolerate political parties attempting to prop up candidates whose message is to erode our dedication to fair elections.”
But some Democratic strategists defended the party’s maneuvering. “Given the serious damage Republicans would do with a majority in either chamber of Congress or with the power of a governorship, no one needs to apologize for doing what they think will give Democratic candidates their best chance of winning,” Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told the Washington Post in September.
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