A new ad running in Maryland is boosting state Rep. Dan Cox's bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
The ad isn't being aired by Cox, though, who's only spent about $19,000 on the airwaves. It's funded by the Democratic Governor's Association, which has booked almost $1.2 million total through the Republican primary on July 19.
The new spot emphasizes Cox's endorsement from former President Donald Trump, as well as his opposition to gun restrictions and support for abortion restrictions.
"Dan Cox: Too close to Trump, too conservative for Maryland," the ad ends.
While the ad appears to be attacking Cox, running it in the midst of party primaries reflects the kind of messaging that could help Cox connect with the more conservative electorate that typically votes in a GOP pprimary.
Political observers say the group is meddling in Republican gubernatorial primaries by essentially baacking right-wing candidates who would have a tougher time winning a general election than moderate Republicans. Democrats just spent tens of millions of dollars to successfully boost a more conservative GOP candidate in the Illinois GOP gubernatorial primary.
Democrats have faced some pushback over these strategies, with critics arguing that it’s dangerous to elevate election deniers and people who attended the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol because they could still win in the fall.
Cox has has questioned the results of the 2020 election, tweeting that Mike Pence was a traitor for certifying the election results and calling for an audit of Maryland’s election results. He also attended the former president’s rally on Jan. 6, organizing buses to take Trump supporters from Maryland to the Capitol that day.
In a statement, the DGA told NBC News that, "multiple polls have shown Dan Cox is firmly in the driver’s seat of Maryland’s Republican primary. ... Given Cox’s frontrunner status and radical MAGA stances, we are starting the general election early and wasting no time to hold him accountable.”
And the group refuted the idea that the ad is about elevating Cox, adding: “Educating the public on the MAGA extremism, and cowardice, of today’s Republican party is essential to ensuring all citizens have the facts. It’s time for the GOP to look in the mirror and have a reckoning with itself, instead of trying to find someone else to blame.”
It could be politically expedient for the DGA to boost Cox's bid for governor at this stage. Maryland is largely a Democratic state, where voters elected Biden with a margin of over 30 points in 2020.
But, it's certainly possible for a Republican to win statewide. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is completing his second term in the state and he's endorsed former Commerce Secretary Kelly Schultz to succeed him.
Schultz is a more moderate Republican, compared to Cox, and could have an easier time replicating Hogan's path to victory than a more conservative candidate.
At a press conference on Thursday, Schultz condemned the DGA ad, telling reporters and supporters, "National Democrats have been doing this across the country. ... The math is easy, spend a million now and save $5 million by not having to face me in the general election."
On Friday Trump himself disputed the notion that Democrats are boosting Cox. In a statement, he said, "They say the Democrats want to face Dan Cox in the general election, when the opposite is true. It is just more Democrat disinformation. They want weak RINO Schulz, who is endorsed by the Amazon Washington Post. The Schulz campaign is coming up with last minute smears because they know their candidate is losing, and losing big!"