Democrats meddle in Trump-Hogan proxy war in Maryland

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This is the latest iteration of an increasingly common playbook for Democrats. In a handful of blue states — and particularly in gubernatorial races — Democratic groups and campaigns ran ads spurring on the most extreme Republican candidate in a primary, hoping he would win the nomination and that he will be easier to defeat in the November general election.

The results have been mixed so far: the DGA and Democratic Governor JB Pritzker have successfully picked their opponent in Illinois, despite spending tens of millions of dollars to do so. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic contender for that state’s open gubernatorial race, propelled Sen. Doug Mastriano into the final days of the Republican primary there — but Mastriano was the GOP frontrunner even before that. And in Colorado, efforts to derail Republican gubernatorial and senator candidates have both failed.

But Maryland has perhaps the thorniest primary of all — an all-out proxy war between Trump and Hogan, a moderate Republican from the blue state 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 shoving in for Schulz, a former state lawmaker who served in Hogan’s cabinet until earlier this year. Hogan has endorsed Schulz, and much of his political network is working in one way or another to boost his campaign.

“It’s not unexpected,” Schulz said of the DGA purchase in an interview, citing Democrat interference in races elsewhere. “The DGA would much rather spend $1 million now than $5 million in the legislative elections” if she was the candidate.

The race between Schulz and Cox, which also includes two other lesser-known Republicans, remains tight. A recent poll by The Baltimore Banner/WYPR/Goucher College had both within the margin of error: Cox at 25%, Schulz at 22%. A majority of 44% of voters said they were undecided or unsure who they would support in the primary.

And the DGA’s announcement could have a major impact. The committee booked at least $1.2 million in airtime, according to data from ad-tracking firm AdImpact — more than Cox and Schulz spent on advertising combined.

Trump did not side with Cox in the state, but he did call for an event hosted by the candidate late last month. “Dan is MAGA all the way, and I say that very strongly,” Trump told the crowd in a video posted by Cox’s campaign“unlike his opponent named Kelly Schulz, who with Larry Hogan is bad news.”

Even though Cox is tied in the recent primary poll, the DGA insists they just start attacking Cox before November. “Given Cox’s frontrunner status and MAGA’s hardline stances, we are starting the general election early and wasting no time in holding him accountable,” DGA spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement. .

The Democratic committee antagonized Schulz throughout the primary, with the campaign and committee trading barbs through the media. (A subject line from a recent DGA press release: “Avoid debate Kelly Schulz is crazy, DGA sent 8 press releases mentioning her – Here’s number 9.”) Ad buying however, represents a significant escalation.

“We see this not just as an attack on Kelly, but as an attack on all Republicans in Maryland,” said Doug Mayer, a longtime Hogan aide who advises the Schulz campaign. “Because at the heart of what they’re saying is that Republicans in Maryland are idiots. That they’re rubes, and a bunch of smart pants in DC can fool them. … In the end, they don’t cheat people.

Mayer said he expected the Schulz campaign to talk a lot about the DGA ad campaign in the final weeks of the race.

As Schulz attempts to continue Hogan’s two-term legacy, whoever wins the GOP nomination will likely be an underdog come fall. Democrats view this gubernatorial race as one of their best pick-up opportunities in the country, with the popular Hogan missing the ballot in a state President Joe Biden won by more than 30 points.

But the Democratic primary also remains undecided. A recent Banner/WYPR/Goucher poll of that crowded race found three candidates all in their mid-teens: state comptroller Peter Franchot, author Wes Moore and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.

Hogan slammed Democrats for bringing up Cox at a press conference Thursday, calling their interference grossly irresponsible.

“Democrats are so afraid of losing again that they are now allowing, emboldening and embracing a QAnon conspiracy theorist,” Hogan said, referring to Cox. “People who shout all day that democracy is at stake are willing to play Russian roulette with the Maryland state house just to win an election.”

Cox’s campaign responded to a request for an interview with a lengthy statement accusing Schulz of colluding with Democrats, saying data released by Schulz’s campaign on buying DGA ads was not public and proved that they worked together. (In fact, TV ad data is available from private ad tracking companies and the FCC website.)

Cox also crashed Schulz and Hogan’s press conference on Thursday, according to Maryland Matters“sometimes shouting at the governor and his protege”.

And on Friday, Trump issued a statement that echoed Cox’s line on the DGA purchase, calling it “all bogus games.” He also called Hogan and Schulz RINO, and said Hogan was coming “to the rescue of fellow ‘Never Trumper’.”

But Schulz clearly sees Hogan, who remains hugely popular with Maryland voters, as a major asset to his campaign. “The people of Maryland – whether you’re a Republican, an Independent or a Democrat – are happy with the way the state is doing and they know that another Republican who can maintain the checks and balances in the state…it’ is what Marylanders are looking for,” she said.

State House Minority Leader Jason Buckel, a supporter of Schulz, said in an interview that the DGA’s efforts were an attempt to elevate a weaker candidate.

Buckel said that even if he did not criticize Cox personally, his campaign would not have the “financial means” to be competitive in the general election.

“The truth is that Democrats know [Schulz] would be tough to beat,” Buckel said.

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