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After Trump-backed candidate victories, some Democrats question party’s meddling in GOP primaries

The Democratic Governors Association didn’t waste any time blasting Republican Dan Cox after the state delegate from Maryland convincingly won his party’s gubernatorial primary in the race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Dan Cox wants to turn Maryland into MAGAland,” charged the narrator in a DGA video launched on Wednesday, hours after Cox – who was endorsed and actively supported by former President Donald Trump – topped Kelly Schulz, a former state lawmaker who had served as Maryland’s secretary of labor and later secretary of commerce in the Hogan administration, and who was backed by the governor.

“Not only does Cox want to roll back abortion and make it easier for criminals to get weapons of war, he promoted the January 6th insurrection, called Mike Pence a traitor as a mob attacked the Capitol, and worked to overturn the 2020 election. No wonder Donald Trump is his biggest fan,” the narrator claimed.

But the DGAthe top organization helping Democratic candidates in gubernatorial races, spent nearly $2 million to run ads boosting Cox ahead of the primary. Democrats viewed Cox, a conservative lawmaker who supports Trump’s repeated unproven claims that his 2020 election loss to President Biden was due to “massive voter fraud,” and who takes a hard line in opposing abortion, as a weaker candidate than Schulz in the general election as they aim to flip the governor’s office from red to blue.

TRUMP, DEMOCRATS, BOTH BIG WINNERS IN MARYLAND’S GOP GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARY

Cox’s victory in the Maryland primary came three weeks after conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey’s convincing win in the Illinois GOP gubernatorial primary. 

Bailey, who similar to Cox is a strong supporter of Trump’s constant re-litigation of the 2020 election, was also endorsed and supported by the former president. And Bailey was also supported by the DGA and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who, combined, spent tens of millions of dollars to boost Bailey over moderate Republican Mayor Richard Irvin of Aurora, Illinois, a city in metropolitan Chicago.

HEAD TO THE FOX NEWS ELECTIONS CENTER FOR THE LATEST PRIMARY RESULTS 

There was a similar dynamic in Pennsylvania’s May GOP gubernatorial primary, where the Trump-endorsed candidate — conservative state Sen. Doug Mastriano – was also boosted to victory by the DGA.

While Cox and Bailey will be considered underdogs in the general election in the blue states of Maryland and Illinois, the latest polling in battleground Pennsylvania indicates a competitive contest between Mastriano and state attorney general Josh Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, a Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, speaks at a primary night election gathering in Chambersburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The possibility of a conservative, Trump loyalist, winning a crucial gubernatorial election has an increasing number of Democrats concerned – and questioning the strategy of meddling in the other party’s primaries.

“I think it’s always a bad idea to let people win a primary who could extremely dangerous if they won. And believe me, in the political word of today, anything can happen and usually does,” longtime Democratic state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro told Fox News.

D’Allesandro, a top Biden supporter in the first-in-the-nation primary state during the 2020 election cycle, warned “be very cautious about what you do because the ultimate result could be a thing that you don’t want.”

DEMOCRATS MEDDLE IN MARYLAND’S GOP GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARY

A veteran national Democratic strategist who’s worked on numerous presidential and statewide campaigns noted that “this is what we did in 2015 and 2016 and we got Trump. The strategy was let’s get Trump. Trump will be easy to beat. Trump’s a terrible candidate and has all these character flaws….and he got elected president.”

“I understand with tough headwinds you want to draw the worst candidate you can as your opponent,” acknowledged the strategist, who asked for anonymity to speak more freely. “But result might be that you elect people in Trump’s image taking over key offices across the country. There’s a double-edged sword here.”

A handful of other Democratic operatives and strategists Fox News spoke with also raised concerns. But a couple of political veterans agreed with the strategy.

“It’s a smart strategy to support these extremist candidates in the primaries, because even in the age of Trump, extremism rarely prevails,” longtime Iowa based Democratic consultant Jeff Link told Fox News.

POLITICAL STRATEGISTS WARN ABOUT MEDDLING IN OTHER PARTY’S PRIMARIES 

Pointing to November’s general election contests, Link argued that “people are looking for someone who’s for solutions and not just for extreme positions.”

The DGA stands by its strategy.

“The best way to protect democracy is by electing Democratic governors. Primary after primary, Republicans are either committed to overturning democratic elections, or refuse to commit to protecting democracy,” DGA communications director Dave Turner told Fox News. “Democrats have a duty to expose this extremism whether it is explicit or implicit.”

And Turner charged that if the GOP “had more leaders and fewer cowards, these extremists wouldn’t have a lane to run in. Instead, it’s abundantly clear Republican primary voters want these extremists because they keep nominating them. Educating voters early on the clear contrast between MAGA Republicans and Democrats creates a clear and undeniable distinction that voters will recognize, and defeat the radicalism in November.” 

But the veteran strategist wasn’t convinced.

“It’s just likely to work less well in an election cycle where you’re facing such stiff headwinds and people are single-issue voters on the issue of inflation and that’s being hung around the neck of Democrats because we have control of Congress and the White House,” the strategist emphasized.

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