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Democrats again meddle in a GOP primary, this time in Michigan

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., speaks during a roundtable discussion at the Capitol on Aug. 30, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., speaks during a roundtable discussion at the Capitol on Aug. 30, 2021.

Updated July 26, 2022 at 12:34 PM ET

A national Democratic group is spending money in a Michigan Republican primary, the latest instance of the party's controversial moves to elevate far-right GOP candidates that Democrats believe would be easier to beat in the fall.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Monday released a new TV ad about John Gibbs, a Republican who's seeking to oust Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, one of just 10 GOP members of the House who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump following the Capitol insurrection. Trump has endorsed Gibbs.

The DCCC ad says Gibbs, who has has baselessly questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, was "handpicked by Trump to run for Congress," adding that Gibbs is "too conservative for West Michigan."

On its face, then, the ad is framed as an attack, but its messaging on Trump would likely appeal to Republican primary voters. As Politico notes, the spot "will also raise Gibbs' name ID in the district, especially given Gibbs' campaign has not been able to air its own TV ads."

The DCCC, which is focused on holding on to its narrow majority in the House, declined to comment.

Meijer's Grand Rapids-based district, which tilted left as a result of redistricting, is considered a toss up by the Cook Political Report, so it's a top target for Democrats.

"The DCCC boosting John Gibbs is clear evidence of who [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi prefers in this race," Emily Taylor, Meijer's spokesperson, said in a statement. "We are confident that voters will see through Democrats' political games while Peter remains focused on the issues that matter most to the people he represents."

Part of a larger trend

The spending in Michigan, which holds its primaries on Tuesday, is not the first time Democratic groups have meddled in Republican primaries this year.

In California, a Democratic super PAC funded a TV ad criticizing Rep. David Valadao's GOP bona fides. Valadao, another of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, narrowly finished ahead of a far-right challenger in June's primary.

Democrats have made similar moves in places such as Colorado, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, who was the subject of ads paid for by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, is now the GOP nominee himself.

Some Democrats have criticized the high-risk, high-reward strategy, especially when the party boosts candidates who are viewed as a threat to democracy.

"This has to be done very carefully," Claire McCaskill, a former Democratic senator from Missouri, told NPR last month. In 2012, McCaskill's reelection campaign spent $1.7 million on ads during the GOP primary to highlight the conservative credentials of Todd Akin. McCaskill then ended up beating Akin in the general election.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — another of the House Republicans who voted for Trump's impeachment, and now one of two GOP members on the select committee investigating the Capitol attack — on Tuesday blasted the moves.

"It's disgusting," he told CNN Tuesday morning. "You're going to have election deniers win [in November]. So 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?' "

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ben Swasey is an editor on the Washington Desk who mostly covers politics and voting.