California Democrats are so eager to oust moderate, Asian American GOP Rep. Young Kim that the party is spending heavily to boost a poorly funded and controversial Republican primary challenger.
Asif Mahmood, the only Democrat running against Mrs. Kim in California’s 40th Congressional District, is spending $445,000 on ads ahead of the June 7 primary. The ads make no mention of Mrs. Kim, painting the contest instead as a head-to-head matchup between Mr. Mahmood and Republican Greg Raths.
“Mahmood knows the importance of protecting reproductive rights,” said one recent ad on the topic of abortion. “Raths believes abortion should be banned, supports repealing Roe v. Wade, and will vote with Trump Republicans to strip women’s health care.”
Political strategists say that by targeting Mr. Raths, Democrats are elevating his candidacy by showering him with free air time. Although negative and geared toward Democrats, the ads still raise Mr. Raths’ profile among Republicans by giving the impression that his candidacy is a severe threat.
“In a highly partisan environment it may be the single best tactic that can be used to select the most beatable candidate,” said Mike Madrid, a political strategist who has worked on several high-profile campaigns in California.
Mr. Raths is not phased by the tactics, saying he welcomes the free advertising.
“I was just running a stealth ground game because we just didn’t have the money for real big advertising,” he said. “I’ve actually been happy to sit back and have them spend all this money promoting my campaign, all that matters is who winds up on top in the primary.”
Mr. Raths also disputed the idea that he could not win a general election, noting that inflation and President Biden’s unpopularity were motivation enough to vote Republican.
“Unless something drastically changes between now and November, the Republican that makes it through the primary will win,” he said. “People are fed up with the direction of the country.”
This comes as redistricting has made California’s 40th slightly more conservative. If the district had existed with the same boundaries in 2020, President Biden would have won it by a narrow two percentage points over former President Donald Trump.
Mrs. Kim, a first-term incumbent who has run and won in more heavily Democratic territory, is seen as especially formidable heading into the general election. Not only is Mrs. Kim one of the most bipartisan Republicans in Congress, but she has also proved a prodigious fundraiser.
To date, she has led the field in fundraising, pulling in more than $4.8 million, compared with $1.4 million for Mr. Mahmood. Mr. Raths, on the other hand, has only $136,110 this cycle.
Mr. Raths’ poor fundraising is not the only reason why Democrats view him as an easier opponent in the general election. A former mayor, Mr. Raths lost a bid for Congress in 2020 against Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California.
In recent weeks, he’s also drawn controversy for criticizing the political influence of Jewish Americans. Mr. Raths, in particular, claimed during a forum earlier this month at the Orange County Islamic Foundation that politicians only supported Israel because of campaign donations from Jewish Americans.
“They got money and they control a lot of these politicians. And the other side, the Palestinians, they don’t have the clout,” Mr. Rath said at the event. “The Jewish community is very well organized in the United States and they control a lot of politicians. That’s why the foreign aid is so large going to Israel.”
“The Jewish community has never given me one dime, so I’m not beholden to them at all,” he said.
The comments provoked outrage and accusations of antisemitism by Jewish groups across the political spectrum. The Republican Jewish Coalition even said that Mr. Raths’ views were more in line with Rep. Ilhan Omar, a firebrand progressive Democrat from Minnesota, than conservatives.
Given the controversy and Mr. Raths’ poor fundraising, Democrats appear eager to take him on in the general election. Mr. Mahmood’s campaign did not return requests for comment on this story.
Democratic efforts to boost Mr. Raths are aided by California’s jungle primary system, where multiple candidates, regardless of party, all run together in the primary. The top two candidates then advance to the general election.
Mr. Mahmood is the only Democrat running, while Mrs. Kim is facing Mr. Raths and another Republican. Since Mr. Mahmoud is all but assured to wind up in the general election, his campaign is spending heavily in hopes of picking its desired opponent.
“The goal is to split the vote and allow other candidates to get into the top two,” said Mr. Madrid. “That can be done in a lot of ways, usually, it’s by positioning a GOP candidate as the ‘real conservative.’”
Democrats are increasingly muscling into GOP primaries this cycle, especially in highly competitive races.
In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, worked to boost the campaign of controversial state Sen. Doug Mastriano in a nine-person GOP primary.
Mr. Mastriano won the primary but is seen as an underdog in November.