BUFORD, Ga. — Representative Paul C. Broun earned national notoriety by invoking Hitler and Marxism to critique President Obama. He dismissed global warming as “one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community.” Evolution, the physician has warned, is a lie “straight from the pit of hell.”
Sounds like a candidate the Democratic Party could never get behind, right?
To some Democrats, Broun’s extreme and colorful comments sound like sweet music, the makings of a perfect Republican candidate for Georgia’s open Senate seat — perfect, that is, if you want the Republican to lose.
“He’s so far out on the extreme, even for the people of Georgia, that he could be a key player in helping the Democrats win,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Senate majority leader Harry Reid. “There would be pages of comments that Democrats could use against him in a general election.”
As party leaders look ahead to the 2014 mid-term elections, some are looking for a replay of 2012, when Democrats honed a strategy that some credit for the surprising defeat of Republicans in Senate races in Indiana and Missouri.
Democrats, for example, ran ads that praised the credentials of a Republican candidate known for extreme right-wing views, hoping that would dim the chances of the more mainstream GOP contenders, those with the best chance of beating the Democratic nominee.
When the tactic worked and the fringe candidate won the primary, the Democrats then opened fire on his or her record of extreme views and combustible comments.
And this interparty “meddling,” as some labeled it, worked — at least it did in Indiana and Missouri.
There is, however, an ironic byproduct of this approach. While Democrats routinely denounce the intransigence of dogmatic Tea Party conservatives, they are in effect supporting their ascendance, both in numbers and clout, and helping to knock off the few remaining Republican moderates who might be open to compromise on major issues such as the budget, pollution regulation, gun control, and immigration.
A by-any-means approach to preserving the fragile Democratic majority in the Senate is, thus, helping increase the political polarization that afflicts the nation.
Yet the possibility of finding the next Todd Akin of Missouri or Sharron Angle of Nevada — to name two far-right conservatives whose primary victories paved the way for Democratic victories in tough elections — can be too tempting to resist.
“What we learned in Indiana in 2012 is that even in a deep red state, when the Democrats put up their best candidate against a flawed candidate, we have the potential to lose,” said a top Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to discuss the Indiana race.
The Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads super-PAC initiated an effort in February to take a more aggressive role in Republican primaries, to bolster mainstream candidates and keep insurgent Republican groups at bay, while also preparing to counter Democratic meddling.
“The Democrats had tremendous success in 2010 and 2012 in picking the Republican candidates that they wanted to face in the general. It was so successful that we fully expect them to repeat or expand this strategy in 2014,” said Jonathan Collegio, the group’s spokesman.
Under the microscope
The Republican candidates in Georgia are well aware that their Senate primary, even at this early stage, is being studied by interest groups from across the political spectrum.
During a muggy August barbecue at a lakefront pavilion, hundreds of local and state Republican activists ate pulled-pork sandwiches and peach cobbler and listened to country music, while House and Senate candidates worked the crowd. The annual “Grillin’ with the Governor” is an opportunity to reach Georgia’s most influential party leaders, long before next year’s primary.
Polls show the field divided among four or five top Senate candidates, the candidates milling in the crowd observed. It won’t take many votes to keep the more moderate candidates out of the expected two-person primary runoff. Democrats, in fact, can vote in the Republican primary, amplifying the potential for mischief.
“This race is so dicey,” said Representative Jack Kingston, a Senate candidate with mainstream Republican backing, who may prove a top target for Democrats during the primary. “Because it’s just a classic, open-seat multicandidate shoot-out that anybody can come in there and influence, say 20,000 voters, which would knock somebody out of the runoff.’’
Several candidates said they have been followed by “trackers’’ from both political parties taking video in search of embarrassing statements, now a standard practice in political campaigns.