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Democrats elevate a Trump Republican in Md. governor’s race but that could backfire

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox
Gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox is interviewed at the J. Millard Tawes Crab & Clam Bake on Oct. 13, 2021, in Crisfield, Md.Lauren Roberts / USA Today Network

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday … President Biden, in Israel,  discusses Iran and Saudi Arabia. ... NBC News confirms Donald Trump tried to call White House support staff who was talking to Jan. 6 committee. ... The DNC launches new TV ad on abortion, per NBC’s Mike Memoli. ... VoteVets begins its general-election salvo. ... And Ohio man gets charged for rape of 10-year-old who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion.

But first: Ahead of next week’s Maryland primaries, Dan Cox — the Trump-endorsed GOP candidate for governor — has spent just $20,000 in ads in his race against the more moderate Kelly Schultz, according to ad-spending data from AdImpact. 

But the Democratic Governors Association has spent approximately $1 million on ads like this

“Meet Dan Cox, Donald Trump’s handpicked candidate for Maryland governor. Cox worked with Trump trying to prove the last election was a fraud. 100% pro-life. He’s fighting to end abortion in Maryland, and Cox will protect the 2nd amendment at all costs, refusing to support any federal restrictions on guns. Even pushing to put armed guards in every school. Dan Cox — too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland.”

Now the DGA argues it’s educating voters about these kinds of candidates, but you can also see how this particular ad boosts Cox with GOP primary voters (“100% pro-life,” “protects the 2nd amendment at all costs,” “too close to Trump”), especially when Cox has barely spent any money over the airwaves, while opponent Kelly Schultz has spent $875,000.

And Maryland isn’t the only state where the DGA has aired TV ads promoting/highlighting the GOP gubernatorial candidate who’s denied the 2020 election results, who’s a hardliner on abortion, and who attended DC on Jan. 6.

As NBC’s Allan Smith and Henry Gomez write (and as we’ve also noted before), Democrats have done this in Illinois (where GOP voters nominated the more conservative candidate), Pennsylvania (ditto) and in Colorado (where they didn’t).

And it has moderate Republicans like outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (who has endorsed Schultz) crying foul. 

“The Democratic Party is talking about, you know, defending democracy. But they’re spending tens of millions of dollars to promote, you know, conspiracy theory-believing — you know, this guy that they’re promoting with that ad [Cox] took two busloads of people to the Capitol on January 6th and called Mike Pence a traitor,” Hogan said on “Meet the Press” last Sunday

We get it: Democrats are trying to get the best matchups they can for the general election. (Remember when Claire McCaskill elevated Todd Akin in 2012?) And they believe any Republican gains in the fall would be a major setback, no matter what kind of nominee wins.

But they also need to be careful of what they wish for, because any nominee has at least a puncher’s chance of winning a general election. 

Maybe not in Maryland, but certainly in other states. (Remember Donald Trump in 2016?) 

Data Download: The number of the day is … 19 percent 

That’s the two-week increase in the average daily Covid deaths and hospitalizations, per NBC’s data team, as new omicron subvariants continue to proliferate across the country. 

An average of 446 people are still dying a day from the virus, and the average of daily cases is up to 137,544 (and that’s as the shift toward rapid, at-home testing may be obscuring a fuller picture). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told the media this week that nationwide hospitalizations have doubled since May thanks to the increased transmissibility of the BA. 4 and 5 subvariants. 

Other numbers to know:

10: The number of anonymous donors who contributed to about half the $55 million in revenue the conservative organization Turning Point USA made in the 2020 fiscal year, per a new NBC News report on the group’s funding

6: The number of federal judge nominees President Biden put forth on Wednesday. 

3.6%: The inflation-adjusted decline in pay over the last year (seasonally adjusted), per the Washington Post’s Heather Long’s analysis of Labor Department data. 

Midterm roundup: VoteVets begins its general-election salvo

VoteVets is launching an opening salvo of its general election campaign, a new digital ad buy supporting five incumbent Democratic women with military or national security experience — Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin, Mich.,Elaine Luria, Va., Abigail Spanberger, Va., Mikie Sherrill, N.J., and Chrissy Houlahan, PA.

And the group tells NBC News it expects to spend between $20 to $25 million on its general election program, which is aimed at electing and protecting veteran candidates, helping Democrats maintain the Senate majority and building out its GOTV program aimed at veterans. 

Jon Soltz, the group’s chairman, told NBC that the group will continue to look for places where they believe their message can be uniquely effective in the large constellation of progressive groups, which could be positive messaging like what they’re releasing this week, or negative messaging like the group’s repeated attacks on Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker. 

And he added VoteVets won’t shy away from centering a contrast on the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks: 

“The more the Democrats don’t talk about this is a big mistake, because it’s a values-based question about why Republicans don’t support our country,” he said. 

“We’re not done with this issue, in regards to how Republicans have treated law enforcement, people who have served this country,” he said.

Read more on the Meet the Press Blog

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arizona Governor: Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green endorsed Kari Lake’s gubernatorial bid.

Arizona Secretary of State: Republican Gov. Dug Ducey is backing Republican Beau Lane in the crowded secretary of state primary that includes a Trump-backed candidate who echoes Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. 

California-22: Politico reports on how Republican Rep. David Valadao is trying to walk a tightrope to re-election as one of the few members who voted to impeach Trump. 

Michigan-10: Republican John James’ campaign says he raised $2.6 million last quarter, a number likely to put him in the upper echelon of House fundraisers over that period. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world  

NBC’s Jonathan Allen reports the American Federation of Teachers wants Democrats to fight back against the GOP attacks on critical race theory as new, internal battleground polling shows voters are split on which party is trusted more on education. 

A Seattle man was charged with a hate crime after being caught threatening Washington Democratic Re. Pramila Jayapal and yelling at her outside her home while armed. 

And Noah Pransky sits down with the 78-year-old Instagram influencer — Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.