Democrats Meddling in GOP Primaries Again

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 09: U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) (R) speaks at a press conference highlighting how veterans are being impacted by the government shutdown with (L-R) Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) at the U.S. Capitol October 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. During the event, Tester and others discussed how critical veterans services are being affected by the shutdown. 
National Journal
Julie Sobel
Feb. 12, 2014, 10:28 a.m.

In North Car­o­lina and Alaska, Demo­crat­ic-aligned groups aren’t wait­ing for GOP primar­ies to be fin­ished be­fore tar­get­ing Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates over the air­waves.

Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity USA on Wed­nes­day launched a new ad to run statewide in North Car­o­lina, char­ac­ter­iz­ing Re­pub­lic­an state House Speak­er Thom Tillis as “with the spe­cial in­terests, hurt­ing North Car­o­lina fam­il­ies.” Tillis is one of a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­ans fight­ing for the GOP nom­in­a­tion, but he’s the front-run­ner and clear es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite. With Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity dump­ing mil­lions in­to at­tack ads on Sen. Kay Hagan, Demo­crats can’t af­ford to wait un­til after the primary to try to define her likely op­pon­ent.

And in Alaska, a su­per PAC sup­port­ing Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich went up with a tele­vi­sion ad paint­ing Re­pub­lic­an Dan Sul­li­van as a res­id­ent of a “swanky” D.C. sub­urb who “pock­eted a Mary­land tax cred­it for res­id­ents liv­ing there” while “vot­ing in Alaska, claim­ing to be one of us.” Put Alaska First PAC has pre­vi­ously been up on the air de­fend­ing Be­gich, but this ad buy — just un­der $50,000 — is the first time they’ve gone after a Re­pub­lic­an. Sul­li­van is en­gaged in a primary with Lt. Gov. Mead Tread­well and 2010 nom­in­ee Joe Miller. But, like Tillis in North Car­o­lina, Sul­li­van far out­raised his Re­pub­lic­an com­pet­it­ors, and he is con­sidered the front-run­ner. And the vul­ner­able Be­gich is un­der at­tack from out­side groups as well, in­clud­ing a su­per PAC sup­port­ing Sul­li­van.

Ads like these, launched while primar­ies are still in pro­gress, can serve an­oth­er pur­pose aside from de­fin­ing their tar­gets ahead of a gen­er­al elec­tion fight: They could po­ten­tially work to throw the primary nom­in­a­tion to a weak­er gen­er­al-elec­tion can­did­ate al­to­geth­er.

Demo­crats have suc­cess­fully meddled in GOP Sen­ate primar­ies to this ef­fect in the past. In 2012, Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill, D-Mo., launched ads tar­get­ing each of the three Re­pub­lic­ans vy­ing to chal­lenge her cam­paign iden­ti­fied then — but her cam­paign had iden­ti­fied Rep. Todd Akin as her weak­est po­ten­tial op­pon­ent in the field, and the ad fo­cused ac­tu­ally aimed to boost him. He went on to win the primary, but he was de­feated in the gen­er­al after say­ing that wo­men could stop them­selves from get­ting preg­nant in cases of “le­git­im­ate rape.” And in 2010, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id went on the at­tack against GOP primary front-run­ner Sue Lowden, help­ing Shar­ron Angle de­feat her.

There are oth­er states bey­ond North Car­o­lina and Alaska where Demo­crats could at­tempt to wreak hav­oc in crowded GOP primar­ies. Most not­ably, in Geor­gia, Demo­crats think GOP Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gin­grey would be the weak­est gen­er­al-elec­tion can­did­ates — so don’t be sur­prised if a Demo­crat­ic group man­euvers to try to make one of them the nom­in­ee, es­pe­cially if either ad­vances to a one-on-one run­off.

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