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Vulnerable Democrats spend heavily on dark-horse Republicans they hope to beat in November

Vulnerable Democrats are increasingly spending money and resources on boosting Republican candidates whom they hope will prove easier to beat in the November midterms.

Democratic candidates and groups are muscling into heated GOP primaries, showering controversial or hardline Republicans with free air time and other benefits. The strategy has surfaced largely in races that are rated highly competitive by political prognosticators.

“Candidates vying for office are always seeking out every advantage possible,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic political strategist who has been involved in several high-profile campaigns. “That includes working to shape the general election by helping pick opponents with a difficult path to victory.”

The political machinations are nowhere more evident than in the swing state of Pennsylvania. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the unopposed Democratic candidate for governor, is working to boost one of his GOP rivals, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, in a nine-person primary.

Mr. Shapiro’s

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