Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. The Republican state House delegate has promoted the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election. He called former Vice President Mike Pence a traitor. He opposed mask and vaccine mandates and abortion rights.

Yet, the Democratic Governors Association has spent more than $1 million promoting Cox ahead of Tuesday’s primary election in Maryland. It’s part of strategy to elect a Democrat as the state’s next governor, replacing Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate blue-state Republican on Trump’s bad list.

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The ads calling Cox “too conservative for Maryland” doubles as an attack ad (should Cox win) but also as a means to influence Republicans to support him, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Cox and former Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz, who served in Hogan’s cabinet and has his backing, are in a tight race for the GOP nomination in what has turned into a proxy war between Trump and Hogan, who can’t run again under Maryland’s term limit law.

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In a handful of blue states — and especially in governor races — Democratic groups and campaigns have run ads boosting the more extreme Republican candidate in a primary, in hopes that they win the nomination and will be easier to beat in the general election in November, according to Politico.

Results have been mixed so far. The DGA and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker successfully picked their opponent in Illinois, though they spent tens of millions of dollars to do so, Politico reported.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for that state’s open governor race, boosted state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the final days of the Republican primary there — but Mastriano was the GOP frontrunner even before that. And in Colorado, efforts to derail Republican candidates running for governor and Senate both fell flat.

Schulz has criticized the Democrats’ strategy in Maryland and said the Democratic Governors Association ad is “meant to trick you.” Democrats, she said, are afraid they will lose in November.

“It is not unexpected,” Schulz said of the DGA ad buy in an interview with Politico, citing Democratic meddling in races elsewhere. “The DGA would much rather spend $1 million now than $5 million in the general election” if she was the nominee.

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State Republican leaders say the ads are designed to help Cox win the primary, giving Democrats a leg up in November, but the DGA says they’re designed to be attack ads and that they’re starting the general election fight early, NPR reported.

In Maryland, nine candidates are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

The top contenders are four-term state Comptroller Peter Franchot, author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore, and former Democratic National Committee chairman and secretary of labor Tom Perez.

Maryland voters have not elected a Democratic governor since 2010.

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