- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2022

Republicans are eyeing retaliation against Democrats after watching as President Biden’s party meddled in GOP primaries this year, picking pro-Trump candidates who proved to be easier to defeat in the general election.

Analysts say Democrats’ investment in GOP races from New Hampshire to Michigan left Republicans with fewer good opportunities to hold or pick up seats.

Republicans this week called Democrats’ tactics unethical but effective.

Rep. Austin Scott, Georgia Republican, said he thinks both parties should follow an honor code to not meddle in each other’s primary processes, but unless that happens, Republicans must follow suit.

“If they’re going to engage in ours, we will be forced to engage in theirs,” Mr. Scott said. “They won every seat that they did that in and, so now you’re talking about the difference in a 10-seat majority vs. a three-seat majority. We can’t allow them to do what they did in our primaries and not combat that.”

Others are reluctant.

“It may have worked this time around, but it just doesn’t feel right,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican. “America is based on excellence of trying to be the best and competition to drive that excellence. That’s quite the opposite. It’s not driving excellence. It’s trying to drive a negative or what you perceive as a negative.”

Republicans won control of the House, but their margin is slimmer than experts had predicted.

How much of that is due to Democratic meddling is anyone’s guess, but the contours are clear.

The Washington Post tallied $19 million Democrats spent boosting Republicans in at least a dozen races. Their picks won six: New Hampshire’s Senate race, House primaries in Michigan and New Hampshire, and governors’ races in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland.

In many of those cases, Democrats spent money backing candidates who former President Donald Trump endorsed.

In the Michigan House race, Democrats boosted John Gibbs, a Trump endorsee who would go on to defeat Rep. Peter Meijer in the GOP primary. With Mr. Mejier in the race, prognosticators rated it anywhere from a toss-up to favoring the GOP. After Mr. Gibbs’ victory, they rated the race as leaning toward Democrat Hillary Scholten, who would go on to win 55% to 42% over Mr. Gibbs.

In New Hampshire, Don Bolduc would emerge and polling seemed to suggest he had a chance at knocking out incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. He ended up losing by 9 percentage points.

Spending Democratic donors’ money to promote Trumpian candidates didn’t sit well with some party faithful.

“We helped anti-democratic candidates into positions of great influence and power, and now know the names and brands of pretty terrible election deniers and those who dabble in conspiracies,” a senior Democratic aide said. “It makes me rethink if I ever will donate to the Democratic Party again.”

Rep. Ami Bera, a California Democrat running to be the next campaign chief for his party, said he would not take the same approach if he was to secure the slot.

“That’s probably not the best thing to do and we should focus on protecting our incumbents and making sure they have the resources, though obviously, it worked in some places,” Mr. Bera said.

Mr. Bera is running against Rep. Tony Cardenas of California for the position.

Meddling in the opposing party’s primary has a lengthy history.

In 2008, conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh urged his army of listeners to cast votes in the Democratic presidential primary in Indiana for Hillary Clinton to delay then-Sen. Barack Obama’s claim to the nomination.

Four years later, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, spent $1.7 million on ads boosting a Republican, Rep. Todd Akin, in the GOP primary for the right to face her. Mr. Akin would win the nomination, then go on to torpedo his campaign with comments about “legitimate rape” and abortion, paying off Ms. McCaskill’s bet in full.

“I helped Todd Akin win — so I could beat him later,” Ms. McCaskill said in a 2015 article in Politico.

Key Republicans remain skeptical of adopting the tactic.

“No. I don’t think it’s a good use of campaign money,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, the North Carolina Republican who will lead his party’s campaign arm into the 2024 election. “We’re still kind of doing our assessment district by district on what happened, but I don’t think it’s a smart strategy.”

Still, the lure of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is powerful when it comes to campaign tactics.

After Democrats used ballot harvesting tactics to net seven seats in California in 2018, the GOP adopted the strategy in 2020 and recaptured four of those seats.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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