The former president and the moderate GOP governor have endorsed rival candidates in the Republican primary to succeed Hogan.
Dan Cox’s campaign for governor of Maryland got an early endorsement from Donald Trump last fall. And now, Democrats want Republican primary voters to know all about it.
The Democratic Governors Association launched a new ad Friday blasting Cox, a state lawmaker, for his ties to Trump, for being “100 percent pro-life” and for “refusing to support any federal restrictions” on guns. “Dan Cox: Too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland,” the narrator intones.
But the end goal of the ad is not to sink Cox. Instead, Democrats are hoping to boost him in the July 19 Republican primary for governor, which has turned into a tight battle for the nomination with former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz — term-limited GOP Gov. Larry Hogan’s preferred successor.
It is the latest iteration of a now increasingly common playbook for Democrats. In a handful of blue states — and especially in governor races — Democratic groups and campaigns have run ads boosting the more extreme Republican candidate in a primary, in hopes that they win the nomination and will be easier to beat in the general election in November.
Results have been mixed so far: The DGA and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker successfully picked their opponent in Illinois, though they spent tens of millions of dollars to do so. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for that state’s open governor race, boosted state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the final days of the Republican primary there — but Mastriano was the GOP frontrunner even before that. And in Colorado, efforts to derail Republican candidates running for governor and Senate both fell flat.
But Maryland may have the thorniest primary of them all — an all-out proxy war between Trump and Hogan, a moderate blue-state Republican who has called on the GOP to chart a new course away from the former president. Trump’s early endorsement of Cox was quickly followed by Hogan going all-in for Schulz, a former state lawmaker who served in Hogan’s cabinet until earlier this year. Hogan endorsed Schulz, and much of his political network is working in some fashion to boost her campaign.
“It is not unexpected,” Schulz said of the DGA buy in an interview, citing Democratic meddling in races elsewhere. “The DGA would much rather spend $1 million now than $5 million in the general election” if she was the nominee.
The race between Schulz and Cox, which also includes two other lesser-known Republicans, remains close. A recent poll from The Baltimore Banner/WYPR/Goucher College had the two within the margin of error: Cox at 25 percent, Schulz at 22 percent. A 44 percent plurality of voters said they were undecided or didn’t know who they’d support in the primary.
And the DGA ad could have a major impact. The committee reserved at least $1.2 million worth of airtime, according to data from the ad tracking firm AdImpact — more than what Cox and Schulz have spent on advertising combined.
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