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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Bannon’s Primary Challengers Help Dems?

In his  Politico post, “Democrats look to wreak havoc in GOP primaries,” Gabriel Debenedetti reports that deepening divisions within the Republican Party are leading to primary challenges that endanger their mid-term candidates and may help Democrats. Citing Roy Moore’s recent win in the Alabama race for the Republican nomination for Senate, Debenedetti notes that Alt-Right strategist Steve Bannon, who supported Moore, is also evaluating similar challenges to the GOP establshment in Mississippi and Tennessee.

Ed Kilgore notes further at New York Magazine,

Regular readers of Breitbart News were aware that Judge Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama had become a major priority of the fiery site over the last couple of weeks. And its chairman, Stephen Bannon, became very personally involved, as reflected by his leading role in Judge Roy’s final rally on Election Eve…When Roy Moore got to the podium (and before he brandished a gun), the famous Ayatollah of Alabama gave Bannon a shout-out as “an outstanding man” who had done more than anyone else to encourage the judge in his campaign.

So once the returns came in and Moore handily dispatched the appointed incumbent Luther Strange, Breitbart News was not at all bashful about taking credit and threatening more primary challenges. “MOORE WIN MAKES STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS TAKE CENTER STAGE” shouted the headline above a half-gloating, half-menacing story from Breitbart’s senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak.

Bannon may also be eyeballing divisive senate primaries in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, Arizona and Nevada. As Debenedetti adds, “Democrats are considering ways to step in and wreak some havoc. The idea: Elevate the GOP’s most extreme option in each race, easing Democrats’ path to victory in a range of states tilted against them.” Also, notes Debenedetti, “At the Democrats’ Senate campaign headquarters in Washington and their local offices in the states, operatives have started compiling files of the GOP hopefuls’ more outrageous statements and positions, while combing through the daily news clips for hints of further themes to pursue against them.”

Debenedetti sees echoes of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill’s strategy of skillfully exploiting division in the Missouri GOP Senate primary five years ago:

At its most aggressive, the tactic could be a sequel to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s 2012 campaign against then-GOP Rep. Akin in Missouri. She actively intevened in the Republican primary with ads designed to boost the conservative Akin to the front of the pack. Once he became the nominee, a series of gaffes — led by his “legitimate rape” comment — and hard-line positions unraveled his campaign.

…“What happened [with Akin] has been multiplied [in Alabama], by both the character of this candidate and the positions he’s taken, but also by the fractures in the Republican Party — which are being fought much more publicly — and the extraordinary unpopularity of Mitch McConnell,” said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, referring to the Senate majority leader who became a central punching bag in Moore’s primary bid.

…Republicans are in an increasingly public, multi-front civil war, and Trump’s base is openly fed up with its own party’s congressional leadership. With support for McConnell as Republicans’ Senate leader emerging as a primary issue, Greenberg called his unpopularity figures among Republican voters “way beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

There may well be a bumper crop of opportunities in 2018 for Democratic candidates for office at the state and local level to actively exploit Republican divisions. It might even be a good idea for state Democratic parties to have projects and task forces developing variations on the ‘Akin strategy.’ But the emphasis for Democratic campaigns everywhere must be on recruiting, training and funding strong candidates for every state legislative seat, state-wide office and congressional district. With that commitment, Democrats will do well against all opponents.

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