Funding Opposition Party Primaries Goes Against Democracy
Funding another party’s primary candidates with the intention of grooming them for general election defeat undermines the American idea of democracy.
An example of this trending political strategy will be leading the November ballot in Illinois: Governor JB Pritzker versus State Senator Darren Bailey.
The scheme began a few months ago when the Democratic Governors Association and Pritzker began investing millions of dollars in ads reinforcing Bailey’s views – drawing more attention to the Donald Trump-endorsed state senator than the Aurora’s more moderate mayor Richard Irvin, who had $50 million in donations on his side and dubbed himself “Pritzker’s worst nightmare.”
Pritzker got what he wanted when Bailey won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the June primary. Now it’s up to voters to decide between him and a candidate who is anti-abortion, pro-gun and known to want Trump’s endorsement.
“I run a campaign to get Democrats elected and Republicans beat,” the governor said when asked by the Sun-Times if helping a conservative Republican’s primary campaign could backfire. “And I want people to know what we believe in and what they believe in. And so the messages that I’ve talked about on TV are all messages about amplifying the differences between Democrats and Republicans.”
This tactic is not illegal, and the candidates have been transparent about their intentions, as it is a requirement for political ads. But using money to deliberately subvert an opposing party’s nomination process is unacceptable.
No matter which side you’re on, voters deserve to choose between the candidates who best represent them. This will become increasingly difficult to achieve if this tactic gains momentum in the next election.
Launch of the strategy
Democrats who have helped fund a Republican candidate say investing in reverse psychology increases their chances of keeping their blue seats. Political strategists even called it a brilliant move, spending $1 million on a candidate with poor odds rather than spending $20 million against a tougher contender.
The modern-day political gamble dates back to a 2012 Missouri election where former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill strategically measured her competition and singled out the underdog.
“There were three viable candidates, and Todd Akin was kind of the weirdest,” McCaskill told NPR. “I knew he might say weird things if he was nominated. And he had less money, so we did a poll and figured out what Republican voters would really like in him.
In the weeks leading up to the primary, McCaskill invested his own money to boost Akin, more than he had spent his entire campaign. He won the Republican nomination – and lost to McCaskill in the general election.
Although McCaskill was successful 10 years ago, she warns that Democrats hoping to repeat her strategy today could face tougher odds, especially against a Republican Trump.
The results could be 50-50 when Trump is in the mix, a Sun-Times/WBEZ poll revealed in early June. Of 677 likely Republican primary voters, 52% of those polled said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Trump, the poll found.
Ahead of this year’s Pennsylvania primary, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads boosting GOP primary candidate Doug Mastriano, which is being investigated by the House Jan. 6 committee. He secured a spot in the general election by winning the Republican nomination.
The same was attempted in California when a political action committee linked to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi targeted conservative candidate Chris Mathys. In this case, the effort did not bear fruit as Mathys ended up losing the Republican nomination for the state’s 22nd congressional district.
In November, Illinois voters will have to choose between Pritzker and an opponent Pritzker helped win. It doesn’t seem right, and it shouldn’t.
It doesn’t matter if the candidates are trying to keep a blue or red political seat. Influencing elections by funding and stimulating weaker opponents pollutes the nature of our democracy.
Keep it clean. The power to choose representatives must remain with the voters.
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