Democrats split by bid to boost election denier in Michigan Republican primary

<span>Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Some Democrats in Washington are publicly fuming over the party’s decision to boost a Republican congressional candidate in Michigan who has questioned the 2020 election result.

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The outcry escalated after Axios reported that Democrats plan to spend $425,000 to air an ad ahead of Michigan’s primary, highlighting the conservative bona fides of John Gibbs, who is challenging the incumbent Republican, Peter Meijer.

In his first term in Congress, Meijer was one of 10 House Republicans to support impeaching Trump after the January 6 attack.

The 30-second ad is styled as an attack ad against Gibbs but has dog-whistle themes designed to appeal to GOP voters.

It says Gibbs is “too conservative” for western Michigan and was “hand-picked by Trump”. It also highlights how he will push conservative policies in Congress, including a “hard line against immigrants at the border” and “patriotic education in our schools”.

The race in Michigan’s third congressional district is projected to be one of the few highly competitive contests this fall. Democrats are betting that Gibbs, who is endorsed by Donald Trump and worked in his administration, will be an easier candidate to beat.

But some worry that strategy could backfire and say it’s hypocritical for the party to meddle in a primary to defeat a Republican who took a difficult vote to hold Trump accountable.

“No race is worth compromising your values in that way,” Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida who sits on the panel investigating the January 6 attack, told Politico.

“I do want to win these races, but it makes me worried,” said Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, a leading progressives, to the same outlet. “I just really worry about promoting election deniers and this idea that we’re going to be able to control what voters want at the end of the day.”

David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Barack Obama, said it was “disappointing” that Democrats were helping Trump try for revenge against a congressman who took a courageous vote to impeach him.

Michigan isn’t the only place where Democrats have intervened in a Republican primary. In Maryland, the Democratic Governors Association spent more than $1.1m on ads to boost Dan Cox, the winner of the GOP gubernatorial primary, according to the New York Times. Cox chartered buses to Washington on January 6 and attended a QAnon convention.

In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, ran an ad ahead of the Republican primary boosting Doug Mastriano, a fringe lawmaker who was one of Trump’s closest allies in efforts to overturn the election. Mastriano won the nomination. If elected, he would appoint the top election official in Pennsylvania.

Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York congressman who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the group responsible for electing House Democrats, did not dispute that there were instances where the party might try to engineer a more favorable opponent.

“We have a high bar for that,” he told MSNBC. “I think if you’re gonna do that you really need to understand what you’re doing. If you’re talking about trying to pick your opponent, you might see us do that, sure.”

Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat on the January 6 committee, said there was nuance in considering whether to boost election deniers.

While he said he understood the argument that it was “categorically wrong” to boost election deniers, he also made a case for why it was appropriate to intervene.

“In the real world of politics, one can also see an argument that if the pro-insurrectionist, election-denier wing of the Republican caucus is already dominant, then it might be worth it to take a small risk that another one of those people would be elected, in return for dramatically increasing the chances that Democrats will be able to hold the House against a pro-insurrectionist, election-denying GOP majority,” he told Axios.

But Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Raskin’s Republican colleague on the January 6 panel who also supported Trump’s impeachment over the Capitol attack, said efforts to boost election deniers was “disgusting”.

“You’re gonna have election deniers win,” he told CNN. “While I think a certain number of Democrats truly understand that democracy is threatened, don’t come to me after having spent money supporting an election denier in a primary and then come to me and say, ‘Where are all the good Republicans?’”