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Some candidates seek to boost their own campaigns by propping up opponents

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Posted at 6:48 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 21:48:15-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A growing political campaign strategy has reached California and San Diego. Candidates in some races are attempting to boost their own odds of winning in November by using campaign ads to attempt to pick their opponent. In multiple state and local races, candidates or their supporters are running advertisements that are meant to help boost the campaigns of selected opponents in the primary, with the hope of setting up more favorable matchups in the general election.

“That’s what it is- strategy. That’s what we’re talking about. The strategy of propping somebody up who you can beat easy," explained longtime San Diego political analyst John Dadian.

One prime example is the race for Assembly District 75, where Marie Waldron is leaving due to term limits. A recent ad begins by listing the progressive bona fides of Democratic candidate Kevin Juza, including his calls for action on climate change, social justice, and abortion rights. However, the ad is paid for by opponent Carl DeMaio.

Dadian says AD-75 leans heavily Republican and that DeMaio sees his chief opponent in the race not as Juza, but as fellow Republican Andrew Hayes. So Dadian says DeMaio's goal is to try to rally enough Democratic support for Juza to push Hayes to third place in the March primary, setting up a DeMaio-Juza battle in November.

Juza told ABC 10News he was surprised when he started seeing the ads run. And while he criticizes DeMaio for spending money on ads boosting an opponent, he does not find the content of the ad to be objectionable. “In those ads, I don’t see anything that’s misleading or wrong," Juza said. "And so as my campaign doesn’t support those ads, they do build my brand name.”

In a statement to ABC 10News, DeMaio defended the strategy:

“This is a safe Republican seat, and we’re waging a strategic and aggressive campaign to lock this seat down in the Primary so we don’t waste scarce Republican resources on a runoff. This will allow me to focus my attention on raising money to flip seats across the state of California to end the Democrats’ Super-Majority control in Sacramento. Republicans must change the way they campaign to be focused and smart if change is going to happen. It starts here.” 

The strategy of boosting opponents is also being utilized in the race for the open United States Senate seat. It began with Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat and frontrunner in most polls, running ads attacking former Padres and Dodgers baseball star Steve Garvey, who is running as a moderate Republican. But Dadian says the attacks are actually designed to make Garvey more attractive to Republican voters because Schiff would rather run against Garvey in November than fellow Democrat Rep. Katie Porter, who is running neck and neck with Garvey for second place in the polls.

“Somebody like an Adam Schiff can say 'I'm not helping him. My ad says how bad they were. My ad did not say vote for him, so that’s not helping him. I did an ad saying this guy’s extreme.' But we know the real strategy is to let people know that Steve Garvey is a Republican.”

In response, Porter has utilized a similar strategy, running ads attacking a lesser-known Republican candidate, Eric Early, with the hope of getting potential Garvey voters to back Early instead, which would help Porter finish in one of the top two spots in the primary and advance to November.

Dadian says that regardless of what strategies campaigns use, it is up to each voter to inform themselves about the candidates and their positions. And while he sometimes feel the strategy of boosting an opponent can backfire, he says as long as candidates have success with it, they will continue to utilize it.

“People complain that their mailbox gets stuffed on Election Day. But guess what? You want to know why they get stuffed? It works. It works. Even if they look at it for two seconds then toss it in the trash can, they look at it for two seconds.”