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Why Democrats Spent $1 Million On An Ad For A Far-Right Candidate

Republican Kelly Schulz is running for governor of Maryland with the endorsement of the GOP incumbent, Larry Hogan. But Democrats are buying out ads that Schulz says will bolster her opponent — a far-right Trump endorsee named Dan Cox.


Narration: Recently, a Democratic political action committee came under fire for spending millions to elevate far-right candidates who may be easier to defeat in November.

Among the loudest critics was Kelly Schulz, a Republican running for Maryland governor. National Democrats have spent about $1 million elevating her main opponent, a Trump-backed candidate who organized buses to the Jan. 6 rally. And who she’s currently neck-and-neck with in the polls.

To learn more about Schulz and her chances, I reached out to Pamela Wood, a longtime political reporter now at the Baltimore Banner.

Michael Tabb: How long have you been following Kelly Schulz? When did she first come onto the scene?

Pamela Wood: Kelly Schulz has a really interesting backstory. She grew up in Michigan, and she was a college student. And she got pregnant, and she had the child, dropped out of school, worked a variety of jobs, she was a bartender, she was a server. Eventually, she went back to college in her 30s and then got involved in local politics and got elected to the Maryland legislature.

And then when Larry Hogan got elected in 2014, Secretary Schulz was part of his … inner circle, she became the state labor secretary. And then she was made the state Commerce Secretary

Narration: In a state that’s gone blue in every presidential election since 1992, Gov. Larry Hogan has made a name for himself as a moderate or “common sense” Republican, with a 65 percent approval rating.

Schulz is running with his endorsement, and is now trying to recreate his winning strategy.

Wood: She is trying to follow the same playbook of a pro-business Republican. She’s talking about pocketbook issues like inflation. She’s talking about violence, which is a major concern in Maryland and in Baltimore, specifically.

Narration: Her main primary competition is state Rep. Dan Cox, who’s running with Trump’s endorsement. Schulz’s campaign has called Cox a conspiracy nut.

Wood: He talks about going back to broken windows policing where you lock people up for minor crimes like, you know, graffiti. He also rails about public schools, and he believes there’s some sort of terrible indoctrination going on. He’s also a full-throated supporter of the election conspiracy theories that President Trump actually won in 2020.

Narration: Of course, these opinions are pretty appealing to many Republican voters. Which is why these ads

Ad: Meet Dan Cox, Donald Trump’s handpicked candidate for Maryland Governor.

Narration: … that Democrats have spent about $1 million to broadcast, have caused a big stir.

Ad: Cox will protect the second amendment at all costs.

Narration: Schulz has said the “Meet Dan” ads are a transparent ploy to boost primary turnout for a Republican who wouldn’t stand a chance against the Democratic candidate.

Schulz: Any ad … paid for by the Democrat Governors Association is an ad meant to trick you … they’re afraid they’ll lose to me in November … I am a threat standing in the way of one-party rule in Annapolis.

Tabb: Is there any polling on hypothetical matchups in November, or is it really too early to be doing that kind of thing?

Wood: Well, certainly independent polling, there hasn’t been anything to that degree. One thing we did look at in the Baltimore Banner poll was, we asked Democrats, would you consider Kelly Schulz? Or would you consider Dan Cox? Kelly Schulz is a more electable Republican in Maryland than Dan Cox is, that’s what our polling shows. It’s hard to see whether there’s a path to victory in the general election for someone like Dan Cox, with, you know, few Democrats saying they’d even consider him. His chances of winning a general election are not zero but they’re probably not very high.

Tabb: Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Wood: Oh, yeah, thanks. I’m happy to, this is fun. I like talking about Maryland politics. We don’t get a lot of attention, but it’s a wild governor’s race this year.

Michael Tabb is a former video and motion graphics producer at FiveThirtyEight.


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