Josh Shapiro, the newly nominated Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, defended on Sunday a television ad he ran that appeared to raise the standing of the Republican rival he’ll face in November — a person Mr. Shapiro has called the country’s most extreme candidate for governor.
The ad is a component of a long-held strategy amongst campaign tacticians: elevate your most extreme rival, and peel away disaffected moderates from that rival’s party come November. Last week, Axios noted that the rise of far-right, Trump-aligned candidates could test this theory and that Democrats are “attempting to engineer the rise of ultra-MAGA candidates they feel shall be easier to defeat in a general election.”
But in today’s highly polarized environment, wherein party affiliation is deeply interwoven with people’s sense of identity, that strategy could backfire, as many Democrats were stunned to learn in 2016.
In the course of the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, Mr. Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, ran an ad that called State Senator Doug Mastriano “one in every of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters.” The ad went on to say that Mr. Mastriano “desires to end vote by mail. He led the fight to audit the 2020 election. If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.”
Mr. Mastriano was a central figure in Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and, if he wins in November, he may very well be able to overturn the outcomes of the state’s election in 2024.
On Sunday, the CNN host Dana Bash asked Mr. Shapiro if it was “irresponsible” to spice up a candidate like Mr. Mastriano “because you’re thinking that you possibly can beat him.”
It was not, Mr. Shapiro said. For weeks, Mr. Mastriano led the crowded Republican field, in accordance with private and non-private polling, and Mr. Shapiro, who was uncontested for the Democratic nomination, said he was wanting to have voters understand the alternative they might soon face.
“What we did was start the overall election campaign and reveal the clear contrast, the stark differences between he and I,” Mr. Shapiro said.