Why some Democrats and Republicans are crossing over to support the other party
Candidates running against Trump-backed opponents are hoping to build bipartisan coalitions to win in November
Candidates facing tough reelection fights this year are banking on their crossover appeal to keep their jobs.
This week, Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., announced “Republicans for Kelly,” a group of nearly 50 Republicans and independents who have endorsed his reelection. The list includes business owners, a former adviser to the late Sen. John McCain, a former U.S. attorney under former President George W. Bush and the mayors of the Arizona cities of Casa Grande, Mesa, Peoria and Show Low.
“Arizonans are facing real challenges right now, and we need to put our state ahead of party politics,” Kelly said in a statement. “I’m proud of the diverse, growing coalition of folks supporting this campaign and propelling us forward towards November.”
Kelly’s play for independents and Republicans is perhaps unsurprising in Arizona, which has a history of political “mavericks” and centrist Democrats, but the same trend is playing out in other races across the country as incumbents face challengers backed by former President Donald Trump, many who falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen.
In Wyoming, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney’s campaign sent mailers and posted a Q&A on its website explaining how Democrats can change their party affiliation ahead of the state’s Aug. 16 primary. And earlier this month, Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto proudly touted the endorsements of a pair of rural Republican elected officials.
“Our Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has shown repeatedly that she has our back, and that’s why I’m supporting her, even as a registered Republican,” Churchill County commissioner Carl Erquiaga wrote in a Reno Gazette Journal op-ed, pointing to her pushing back against a Democratic proposal he said would have hurt farmers and ranchers.
While Utah independent Evan McMullin isn’t an incumbent, he convinced Democrats to not run a candidate of their own this year, hoping the state’s liberals would prefer him to Republican Sen. Mike Lee. A Wednesday Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found 36% support for McMullin, behind Lee’s 41% but within striking distance.
As Sen. Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska, faces Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, she’s is getting support from Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, even donated $5,000 to Murkowski’s campaign through his Make It Work political action committee. Murkowski is no stranger to fending off challengers on her right. In 2010, she became the first U.S. senator in more than half a century to win as a write-in candidate after losing her primary to a tea party candidate.
In a two-party system, parties have to pitch big tents for survival and candidates have to build coalitions unique to their state or district. It’s why you see vulnerable Democrats distancing themselves from an unpopular President Joe Biden ahead of the midterms and post-Trump Republicans attempting to chart a new path forward for their party.
A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found the Democratic and Republican coalitions both include sizable shares of voters open to jumping ship. Among Democrats, 13% are classified as “stressed sidelines” whose political beliefs include both liberal and conservative views, while in the GOP, 15% are identified as “stressed sidelines,” and an additional 18% are “ambivalent right,” a group that’s younger, less religious and more moderate on social issues and less supportive of Trump.
Not all crossover support is sincere. In some states, Democrats are purposefully boosting far-right candidates in hopes they’ll be easier to beat. It’s a strategy that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, believes could backfire.
“It’s not illegal but it sure is stupid,” Romney told HuffPost this week. “Be careful what you wish for. You may select somebody who actually wins and then you hurt the country as well as your own party.”