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
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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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