Democratic groups spend money on Republican primaries to nominate less appealing opponents

In primary contests in New Hampshire, money is pouring in for Republican candidates from an unusual source. Democratic groups are spending millions of dollars in an attempt to ensure their candidates face less appealing opponents in the general election. Laura Barrón-López reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In primary contest in New Hampshire tomorrow, money is pouring in for Republican candidates from an unusual source, Democrats.

    Laura Barrón-López explains.

  • Announcer:

    Meet Bob Burns.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    In TV ads like this one, an unexpected and risky strategy.

    Bob Burns (R), New Hampshire Congressional Candidate: And I'm an America first candidate.

  • Announcer:

    Burns follows the Trump playbook on immigration, the border and guns.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    What at first glance looks like a typical campaign message for a Republican primary candidate is actually an ad paid for by Democrats.

  • Announcer:

    Democrats Service responsible for the content of this ad.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Bob Burns, a former county treasurer and loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump, is hoping to take on Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kuster to represent New Hampshire's Second District.

  • Bob Burns:

    I'm the only pro-life candidate up here.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    But first, Burns, who has questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election, has to be Keene Mayor George Hansel in the party primary on Tuesday. Hansel is a centrist backed by the state's Republican Governor Chris Sununu, and he has sharply different views on issues like abortion.

  • Bob Burns:

    Personally, I'm pro-choice.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Burns already leads in the polls. Democrats boosting his candidacy are essentially rolling the dice that, in a district President Joe Biden won by nine points, Burns is easier to beat.

  • Announcer:

    An agenda too conservative for Illinois.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    It's part of a national strategy. Official Democratic campaign arms and outside groups are pumping millions of dollars into Republican contests in at least seven states, betting that Trump faithful, election-denying candidates will be less competitive in November.

  • Announcer:

    Donald Trump's handpicked candidate for Maryland governor, Cox worked with Trump trying to prove the last election was a fraud.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    In Maryland, Democrats spent $627,000 to elevate Dan Cox, who won the primary over a moderate backed by Republican Governor Larry Hogan. In a blue state, Cox's victory all but clears the way for a Democratic win in November.

  • Announcer:

    Handpicked by Trump to run for Congress, Gibbs called Trump the greatest president.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    In a Michigan swing district, Democrats poured $435,000 into promoting John Gibbs, who has spread election lies and conspiracies. He beat freshman Congressman Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump.

    To Mike Madrid, a Republican who has worked to defeat Trump and election deniers, this strategy is hypocritical and a danger to democracy.

  • Mike Madrid, Republican Strategist:

    It's aiding and abetting a social movement that is trying to destroy our democratic underpinnings. And to be involved in that, to be engaged in that is a moral travesty. It is literally feeding into the same toxicity that the problem you're trying to address has created.

  • Announcer:

    Republican Chris Mathys, a true conservative, 100 percent pro-Trump.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    The ads are similarly designed, emphasizing ties to Trump and conservative positions on abortion and immigration, all issues Democrats should use to define and challenge their Republican opponents, argues Martha McKenna, a Democratic ad maker.

  • Martha McKenna, Democratic Strategist:

    These candidates are a threat. They're a threat to our democracy whether they're on the ballot or not. So we should be running as smart and as tough campaigns against them as possible, because they will be dangerous if they are elected in November and we have to stop them.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    She also said it's Republican voters elevating these candidates, not the ads Democrats are running.

  • Martha McKenna:

    These are the types of Republican candidates, these Trump Republican candidates, who are coming through primaries that are determined with a plurality of the vote. So the fact that Democrats are pulling out all the stops to try to halt the march of these right-wing candidates in primaries, certainly in general elections, is an important strategy.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    In New Hampshire, Democrats are also trying to help Senator Maggie Hassan win reelection.

  • Announcer:

    Chuck Morse, another sleazy politician.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Spending $3.2 million on Republican primary ads attacking the moderate candidate as a Mitch McConnell acolyte. In a crowded field, the candidate closest to Trump, Don Bolduc, leads the polls.

    Proponents of this strategy point to Senator Claire McCaskill's reelection victory over Republican Todd Akin in 2012.

  • Fmr. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO):

    If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    That comment effectively doomed Akin's candidacy. And McCaskill's bet paid off. She had cut this radio ad boosting him during the Republican primary.

  • Announcer:

    Akin wants to stop all funding to Planned Parenthood.

  • Fmr. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO):

    I'm Claire McCaskill, candidate for U.S. Senate, and I approve this message.

    Madrid says, 10 years later, the stakes are higher.

  • Mike Madrid:

    What we're dealing with now is foundationally different. Todd Akin was not suggesting that the elections were being stolen. He was not suggesting that it was OK to engage in insurrection.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    With potentially long-term consequences.

  • Mike Madrid:

    Many of these candidates develop a much larger following, even if they lose the current race. What we have seen is, they come back and win for school board or state legislative race or for city councils because of this new awareness and this new recognition.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    That contrast and risk is clear in this year's governor race in Pennsylvania.

    Josh Shapiro (D), Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate: They don't want everybody to have the opportunity to vote.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    The Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, spent an estimated $855,000 on ads defining his likely opponent, Doug Mastriano, as an extremist during the GOP primary.

  • Announcer:

    He led the fight to audit the 2020 election. If Mastriano wins, it's a win for what Donald Trump stands for.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Now Mastriano, an election denier who was outside the Capitol on January 6, is racing to catch Shapiro in the polls.

    Doug Mastriano (D), Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate: We, the people, are pissed, right?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    As the general election heats up in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and across the country, Democrats' risky strategy will be put to the test.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barron-Lopez.

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