Democratic super PACs are reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending against a conservative House candidate in New Mexico. But a closer look at the television ads and direct mail pieces suggest that the groups are actually looking to boost her candidacy at the expense of a wealthier, more business-friendly primary opponent.
“New Mexico Republicans have to choose,” declared a mail piece sent last week by the super PAC Women Vote, which is affiliated with the progressive-leaning women’s group EMILY’s List.
The mailer offers recipients two options in the competitive primary in New Mexico’s second district: Claire Chase, who it labels a “Santa Fe corporate lobbyist” who “called Trump an a**hole,” or Yvette Herrell, who it says is “100% loyal to President Trump” and has earned the endorsements of “eleven pro-gun sheriffs and Cowboys for Trump.”
The mail piece appears designed to boost Herrell’s prospects in next week’s GOP primary contest, where loyalty to Trump has been the central issue of the campaign. But for accounting purposes, Women Vote has described the mailer differently. The only expenditures in the race the group has reported to the Federal Election Commission are about $23,000 on mailers opposing both Herrell and Chase.
Both candidates have pledged their fealty to Trump. But each has accused the other of insufficient loyalty to the president. Chase, the former head of New Mexico’s oil and gas lobby, endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Carly Fiorina during the 2016 presidential election in a Facebook post, subsequently unearthed by Breitbart News, that dubbed Trump an “a**hole unworthy of the office.” She’s since recanted that view. Chase “voted for President Trump in the general, celebrated his election, supports him now and thinks he has done a great job as President,” a spokesperson told Newsweek last year.
Chase has shot back with allegations that Herrell’s backing for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the same Republican presidential primary amounted to “undermin[ing] Trump’s campaign.” She’s also blamed Herrell, a former state representative, for Trump’s impeachment this year. Had Herrell won her 2018 House race, Chase claimed, Trump might never have been impeached.
In that battle over who is more loyal to the president, EMILY’s List’s PAC has come down firmly on Herrell’s side. Its mailers appear to be part of a larger, coordinated strategy among Democratic political spenders to boost Herrell at the expense of Chase. Herrell has been endorsed by the political arm of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but the campaign to promote her appears to signal that Democrats believe Chase would be a tougher candidate for freshman Democrat Rep. Xochitl Torres Small to face in the general.
That larger advocacy effort suggests Democrats are working to boost Herrell’s primary candidacy through tactics that obscure their true ideological leanings.
EMILY’s List did not return a request for comment.
The strategy of surreptitiously courting another party’s voters is not a new one, and Democrats in particular have used it in the past. In the waning days of the 2018 midterm elections, the Indiana Democratic Party began running Facebook ads attempting to boost a Libertarian Senate candidate at the expense of the Republican in the race. Just this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched ads boosting one of four Republican candidates in a primary to take on a vulnerable South Carolina Democrat. Most famously, former Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign purchased ads supporting the 2012 primary campaign of Republican Todd Akin. Akin won the nomination, only to subsequently implode and hand a win to McCaskill.
As the Women Vote mailers went out, another Democratic super PAC, Patriot Majority PAC, was going on air with a $250,000 television ad campaign that relayed similar messages to Republican primary voters—down to the very same data points in the Women Vote mail piece.
“There’s Santa Fe lobbyist Claire Chase, who opposed President Trump, calling him an (expletive) unworthy of the office,” says Patriot Majority’s ad, first reported by the Associated Press last week. “Or there’s Yvette Herrell. She’s 100% loyal to Trump, backed by 11 pro-gun sheriffs and Cowboys for Trump.”
Like Women Vote, Patriot Majority reported those ads to the FEC as opposing both Herrell and Chase.
Both candidates are vying for the chance to take on Torres Small, who flipped a Republican seat in 2018 that the GOP desperately wants to retake this cycle. The race has already drawn some big spenders, including House Freedom Action, the political group associated with the hardline House Freedom Caucus, which is going to bat for Herrell. The group has dubbed Chase a “Trump-hating liberal.”
It’s also drawn the involvement of other strange political bedfellows. Republican Women for Progress PAC, a group founded by a pair of anti-Trump GOP operatives, has purchased Facebook ads backing Torres Small, according to Facebook’s political ad database. The group also purchased ads opposing Herrell’s 2018 House candidacy.
In spite of its branding, Republican Women for Progress is largely funded by a handful of wealthy Democrats, including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Kathryn Murdoch, the wife of former 21st Century Fox executive James Murdoch.