Jul 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Profile of a GOP voter: Meddling Dems target hunters, country music lovers

Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox appears in a Democratic Governors Association ad

Photo of a Democratic Governors Association digital ad. Source: DGA Action

Democrats boosting a hard-right Republican gubernatorial candidate in Maryland are targeting a particular brand of voter: she loves hunting and country music, has no interest in yoga or public libraries and lives in one of America's wealthiest ZIP codes.

Driving the news: Those are just a few of the targeting criteria for a Democratic Governors Association ad campaign touting Republican Dan Cox's conservative bona fides ahead of Tuesday's Maryland GOP primary, according to Meta ad targeting data.

Why it matters: If those apparent efforts to elevate spoiler candidates backfire, the result would be powerful elected officials with fringe views on issues ranging from abortion to "election integrity."

  • Newly released Facebook and Instagram targeting data offer a detailed look behind the tactics.

What's happening: Tuesday's primary pits Cox, who's been endorsed by former President Trump, against Kelly Schulz, who's backed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a centrist Republican.

  • DGA's Cox ads hype him as a pro-Trump die-hard who's anti-abortion and pro-gun rights and who wants to overturn the 2020 election results.
  • Cox is "the MAGA candidate" and "Trump's pick for Maryland," they say.
  • While a likely liability in a general election, those are the sorts of "attacks" sure to boost a Republican in a closed primary system like Maryland's.
Meta ad disclosure data
Screenshot: Meta ad disclosure data

The intrigue: The types of Marylanders targeted with those ads indicate DGA is trying to reach voters more likely to be conservatives.

  • They target people interested in hunting, fishing, yachting, baseball, country music and the petroleum industry, among other interests, according to Meta's ad disclosure database.
  • They also target people in the wealthiest 5% of U.S. ZIP codes, which include high-end Maryland towns such as Bethesda, Potomac and Chevy Chase.
  • The ads specifically exclude Facebook and Instagram users interested in yoga, environmental science, "education and libraries" and "social change."

Between the lines: The DGA explained its ads as early forays into the general election contest, rather than efforts to aid Cox's primary bid.

  • "For months, multiple polls have shown Dan Cox is firmly in the driver’s seat of Maryland’s Republican primary, with the total backing of Donald Trump and the state's only Republican member of congress, Andy Harris," spokesperson Sam Newton told Axios in an emailed statement.
  • "Given Cox’s front-runner status and radical MAGA stances, we are starting the general election early and wasting no time to hold him accountable."

The big picture: DGA's Cox ads come amid apparent efforts by other Democrats to elevate right-wing candidates seen as less electable.

  • Hard-right Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and Kari Lake in Arizona have both benefitted.
  • Democrats are betting those candidates will be easier to beat in November. But some have warned the tactic could result in the election of extremist or conspiratorial candidates at a time when some Democrats are arguing democracy is under threat.
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