In Illinois, for instance, the Democratic Governors Association has already spent $4 million on commercials to weaken Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin ahead of that state's June 28 nomination contest. The group has gone a step further now by airing ads ostensibly attacking state Sen. Darren Bailey that are in fact designed to boost him with GOP voters.
In California, meanwhile, Attorney General Rob Bonta is also trying to help his most Trumpian rival, attorney Eric Early, in the June 7 top-two primary. Early is going up against a field that includes a fellow Republican, former federal prosecutor Nathan Hochman, as well as Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, a former Republican who became an independent in 2018.
Bonta's critics, including the state's powerful law enforcement unions, think that an unaffiliated candidate like Schubert gives them their best chance to defeat the incumbent in a dark blue state where Republicans haven't won a statewide race since 2006. Even Hochman, though he'd still have to overcome his party label, could still put up a fight in a strong GOP year as a more moderate option (exceedingly rare for a Republican, he says he supports Roe v. Wade). Early, by contrast, is making absolutely no attempt to reach beyond the MAGA base, arguing instead, "This is our destiny as Republicans, to fight the evil woke."
Bonta, though, isn't just passively hoping that conservatives pick Early. The attorney general and his allies are running ads that purport to go after Early, but in a way designed to make conservatives actually want to vote for him. One ad features a man describing Bonta as "[v]ery different than Eric Early, who proudly calls himself the candidate from the Trump wing of the Republican Party—he's pro-Trump, pro-life, and pro-guns."
Back in Illinois, which uses a traditional primary, the DGA is trying something similar in the GOP contest to take on Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Its new spot calls Bailey "too conservative for Illinois" and dubs him a proud Trump supporter who's "calling into question our elections and fighting for gun owners and the unborn." The ad even shows footage of Bailey using a firearm as the on-screen text declares he "OPPOSES LIBERAL GUN CONTROL."
By contrast, in a different ad meant to directly weaken Irvin, the DGA blasted the Aurora mayor's past career as a defense attorney whose clients included "violent criminals," which echoes the kind of broadside that Republicans more commonly use against Democrats.
Both the DGA and Bonta, as well as Shapiro in Pennsylvania, are trying to pull off a gambit that Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill employed to devastating effect in her 2012 re-election campaign to the Senate. McCaskill, as she would write in her 2015 memoir, believed that the hardline Rep. Todd Akin would be a considerably weaker general election foe than his two main intra-party rivals, businessman John Brunner and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
The senator therefore spent $1.7 million during the final four weeks of the GOP primary, which she noted was more than Akin spent in total to secure his party's nod. That money went to ads calling Akin "pro-family" and "too conservative"—messages calculated to make Republicans like him more. McCaskill says she even used backchannels to pass advice to Akin, including polling data, telling him which of his own ads he ought to run.
McCaskill was far from the first politician who sought to manipulate the opposing party's primary this way, but her intervention succeeded so well that she's become a model for others trying the same approach. Akin won his nomination and then promptly self-destructed with his notorious "legitimate rape" comments. McCaskill ended up beating the congressman, who died last year, by a wide 55-39 margin even as Mitt Romney was carrying Missouri 54-44.
However, while both parties have often tried to emulate McCaskill's offensive in the decade since then, such efforts usually fail. Often, would-be victims of such machinations have the time and money to warn their party's voters what's happening, which is what Irvin is trying in a new commercial that labels Bailey as Pritzker's "favorite Republican." His ad even shows footage in which Bailey is asked, "You glad to see those ads from the Democratic Governors Association?", to which the state senator smiles and responds, "Oh yeah. Yeah. I dig 'em. And that's beautiful."
Still, don't expect either side to stop these sorts of shenanigans anytime soon. McCaskill proved that this strategy, as expensive as it is, is worth every penny whenever it succeeds. Shapiro will find out Tuesday if he's in luck in Pennsylvania, while we'll learn in the coming weeks if Democrats nab the opponents they want in California and Illinois.
● MO Redistricting: After months of all-out warfare between the Missouri House and Senate and within the Senate, the state's GOP-run legislature finally passed a new congressional map on Thursday and sent it to Republican Gov. Mike Parson for his signature, a day before the legislative session was set to end.
Had the two chambers not reached an agreement, the redistricting process would have been handed over to the courts, where lawsuits had already been filed due to the ongoing impasse. That looming deadline likely helped bring the long-running feud to an end, along with an ever-present threat by GOP leaders in the Senate to "move the previous question"—a parliamentary maneuver designed to cut off a filibuster, the vehicle that a small band of far-right dissenters had used to thwart earlier attempts to pass a map.
The "PQ," as it's known, is often referred to as the "nuclear option" in Missouri politics and is seldom deployed in the Senate—the threat of it is often sufficient. It also, apparently, has never been used by a party against its own members. Rather than face the possibility they'd make ignominious history, the renegade Conservative Caucus surrendered, and the Senate approved the new map in a lopsided 26-5 vote. (The House had passed it on Tuesday.)
The map solidifies the GOP's 6-2 advantage in the state's congressional delegation, as Republican leaders in both the House and Senate had wanted. By contrast, the Conservative Caucus had long demanded a 7-1 map that would carve up the Democratic-held 5th District in Kansas City, but the hardliners eventually caved and allowed a 6-2 map to advance in late March. The House, however, rejected that proposal, with one member accusing the Senate of making tweaks that "took care of some people, some senators down there, that needed it for their political benefit."
One person who might actually benefit from the final product is Rep. Ann Wagner, whose competitive 2nd District in the St. Louis suburbs got shored up by extending it westward into more rural turf and making it considerably redder. Under the old lines, the 2nd was the closest district in the nation on the presidential level, voting for Donald Trump by a margin of just 0.03%, or just 115 votes. The new version instead would have voted 53-45 for Trump.
But that may or may not be welcome news for Wagner. Last year, according to Politico, a fellow attendee at an event in D.C. was overheard telling the congresswoman he hoped legislators would draw a safer seat for her. But Wagner, who passes for a pragmatist in today's GOP, reportedly responded, "Then you get those wacko birds." A spokesperson did not deny the report, and the wacko birds might very well like to deny Wagner another term. They'll probably have to wait another cycle, though, as the incumbent hasn't drawn any potent challengers in the Aug. 2 primary.
● AL-Sen: While the Senate Leadership Fund, which is the super PAC run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, hasn't publicly taken sides in the May 24 Republican primary, it's very much putting its money where its mouth isn't in order to support former Business Council of Alabama head Katie Britt. New campaign finance reports reveal that a pro-Britt group called Alabama's Future has received $2 million from SLF, with retiring Sen. Richard Shelby contributing that same amount as well.
SLF president Steven Law explained to The Hill that his group took action to stop Rep. Mo Brooks, who has pledged to oppose keeping McConnell on as leader. Law maintained that SLF had no preference between Britt or the third major GOP candidate, Army veteran Mike Durant, though there's no indication that it's expending any money to aid Durant.
● AZ-Sen: Wealthy businessman Jim Lamon is going up with what appears to be his first negative ad of the August Republican primary. The spot uses a puppet to make its case that former Thiel Capital executive Blake Masters is a "puppet of California Big Tech." And yes, the puppet is supposed to be the one narrating this commercial.
● NC-Sen: The NRSC isn't waiting for Tuesday's Republican primary to launch an opening $1 million ad buy that caricatures Cheri Beasley, the former state Supreme Court chief justice who is on a glide path to the Democratic nomination, as weak on crime.
● PA-Sen: After spending several months and close to $20 million savaging TV personality Mehmet Oz and praising rich guy Dave McCormick, Honor Pennsylvania is launching a last-minute ad aimed at knocking out election conspiracist Kathy Barnette before she can beat them both in Tuesday's GOP primary. The 15-second spot accuses Barnette, who would be Pennsylvania's first Black senator, of having "supported the George Floyd protest" and doubting Trump.
Politico reports that another anti-Oz super PAC, USA Freedom Fund, is dropping $720,000 on its own late commercial attacking Barnette. The narrator opens with a true blast from the past: "Bitter clingers. Remember when Barack Obama called us 'bitter,' saying in Pennsylvania we cling to guns or religion or dislike people who aren't like us?" And what do Obama's 2008 comments have to do with the 2022 Senate race? The ad claims Barnette "wants to build a statue of Barack Obama right next to the one of Abraham Lincoln on Capitol Hill in Washington."
To make its case, the spot shows a Change.org petition Barnette ostensibly started two years ago. What we do know, though, is that Barnette fired off Islamophobic and homophobic tweets over the years about Obama, including one 2015 offering where she wrote, "Amen! Obama is horrible…on all measures. He loves all things homosexual (Mmmmmm), he supports all things Muslim…" The next month, Barnette responded to an ISIS terrorist attack in Paris, "Obama has shown true Muslim colors.This administration is NOT concerned about OUR safety."
While it's not surprising that McCormick's allies have responded to Barnette's rise in the polls by going after her, what is unusual is that USA Freedom Fund is partially funded by the Club for Growth―an organization that is airing commercials for Barnette. As for the Club's decision to aid her, an unnamed Trump ally tells Politico, "I really think it is a bit of a 'fuck you' to Trump, to do this in the last week … This is really kind of shocking." The Club and Trump wound up in a truly ugly fight after they took opposite sides in the Ohio Senate primary, and the Club's decision to support Barnette over the Trump-backed Oz shows it's not ready to bend the knee just yet.
● PA-Gov: On Saturday, Donald Trump delivered a late endorsement to state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the QAnon ally that plenty of other GOP leaders fear would be an utterly toxic nominee if he won Tuesday's primary. Trump saw things differently, saying of the Big Lie fanatic, "There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano."
Meanwhile, Melissa Hart ended her longshot comeback attempt the previous day and endorsed her fellow former House member, Lou Barletta.
● CA-37, CA-42: The crypto-aligned Protect Our Future PAC is now spending serious amounts in a pair of top-two primaries for open (and safely blue) Southern California seats. The PAC has deployed $360,000 in support of state Sen. Sydney Kamlager in the 37th District, while it's expending $870,000 to aid Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia in the 42nd. This is the first major outside spending we've seen in either June 7 contest.
● FL-27: Miami Commissioner Ken Russell has publicized a late April internal from the Democratic firm the Kitchens Group that shows him trailing Republican incumbent María Elvira Salazar only 43-41; the survey was conducted weeks before Russell launched his campaign for this seat in the Miami area.
● GA-06: A group called Trailblazer PAC has spent $210,000 so far to weaken physician Rich McCormick ahead of the May 24 Republican primary, and Bloomberg's Greg Giroux reports that it's funded by influential donor Randy Evans; Evans is the father of former state ethics commission chair Jake Evans, who just happens to be one of McCormick's intra-party foes.
● OR-06: After spending a truly mind-boggling $10 million on positive ads for economic development adviser Carrick Flynn, Protect Our Future PAC has launched a late $810,000 ad campaign attacking one of his rivals, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary. The spot declares Salinas once worked as a lobbyist "for a drug corporation accused of driving up drug prices."
● TN-05: A federal judge has rejected a request by video producer Robby Starbuck to restore him to the Aug. 4 Republican primary ballot for Tennessee's open 5th Congressional District, saying he'd failed to show that the state GOP's decision to boot him for failing to meet its opaque "bona fide" standard violated the Constitution or state law. Starbuck suggested he might appeal or file a new suit in state court.