Primary Meddling Pays Off for Democrats

Maryland Democratic Gov.-elect Wes Moore and Lt. Gov-elect Aruna Miller celebrate during an Election Night party. (Photo by Eric Lee/ Washington Post/ Getty Images.)

Democrats had a stronger Election Night than many analysts anticipated, buoyed in part by Trump-endorsed Republican candidates who performed worse than expected. But in six instances—three gubernatorial races, two House races, and one Senate race—Democrats actually participated in the process of selecting those Republican candidates by spending money in their primary campaigns. This cynical bet paid off.

Meddling of this nature isn’t unprecedented—in 2012, for instance, Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign boosted Todd Akin in the Republican primary before beating him in the general election. But many of the GOP candidates Democrats aided in this cycle believe, or until recently believed, that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump—adding an extra layer of hypocrisy to Democrats’ efforts as they simultaneously campaigned as the pro-democracy party.

Democrats spent more than $53 million boosting Trump-aligned candidates in 13 races in nine states. Of those 13, six won their primaries and advanced to Tuesday’s general election. All six lost.

Dan Cox, a member of the Maryland state legislature and the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, vocally supported Trump’s claims of a stolen election, arranged for his constituents to be bused to the Trump rally in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, and tweeted during the attack on the Capitol that Mike Pence was a “traitor.” After Cox received Trump’s endorsement, the Democratic Governors Association ran ads describing him as “too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland.” Democratic groups spent a total of $1.7 million in the race, in which Cox defeated the moderate candidate preferred by incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan by more than 8 points. The general election was no contest: Democrat Wes Moore, a celebrity author and political newcomer, soundly defeated Cox, returning Democrats to the governor’s mansion after Hogan’s eight-year tenure. Moore will be Maryland’s first black governor.

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