One of the nation's leading gun-control advocacy groups announced plans on Friday to spend upwards of $1 million in the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial and attorney general races even though a similar spending effort failed to flip control of the state senate in 2015.
The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a New York-based gun-control group founded in large part by Michael Bloomberg, is donating $450,000 to Democrat Ralph Northam in his race against Republican Ed Gillespie. They're spending another $250,000 on mailers supporting Northam. The gun-control group is putting another $300,000 into Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring's reelection bid.
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Northam and Herring contrast with their Republican opponents on gun policy. Northam supports an assault weapons ban, magazine size limits, universal background checks, and a return to the one-gun-a-month rule—all distinctions from Gillespie. Herring also supports universal background checks and the one-gun-a-month rule, and his campaign website touts his record as one of standing up to the "gun lobby and a legislature that is beholden to it." Herring's opponent, Republican John Adams, has promised to "vigorously defend the Second Amendment."
"We are making this initial investment because Ralph Northam and Mark Herring have been forceful champions for gun violence prevention in Virginia, while their opponents subscribe to a dangerous ‘guns everywhere’ agenda," Brynne Craig, a senior strategist for Everytown, told the Washington Post.
Northam, Herring, and current Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe were all involved in attempts by the executive branch to circumvent Virginia's legislative branch and implement new gun-control measures in the wake of the state's 2015 election. In October 2015, Gov. McAuliffe, with Lt. Gov. Northam's support, issued an executive order banning guns from all state buildings. In December 2015, Attorney General Herring announced his plan to unilaterally eliminate most of the state's gun-carry reciprocity deals with other states.
Virginia Republicans in the state legislature then struck a deal with McAuliffe in January 2016 to reverse Herring's actions, remove the attorney general's discretion in creating or eliminating reciprocity deals, and extend recognition of gun-carry licenses to every state. The reversal of Herring's attempt to eliminate the reciprocity deals was only possible because Republicans were able to retain control of both houses of the state legislature. Despite gun-control groups spending millions of dollars, including $2,368,655 from Everytown, in two key state senate races, neither seat changed hands between the Democrats and Republicans. Republicans ultimately retained their majorities in both houses.
Democrats failed to flip any senate seats in the 2015 election and only managed to flip a single house seat. Some argued that the millions of dollars in spending from the Bloomberg-backed gun-control group ended up hurting Democrats, especially in key senate elections. "Definitely Bloomberg backlash," Virginia Democratic political operative Paul Goldman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the aftermath of the election.
Local gun-rights activists said Everytown's new spending push will have the same results.
"Bloomberg knows that his agenda of gun control has been soundly rejected by the majority of voters in Virginia, so he is going back to his standard Plan B, which is trying to buy the election," Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Just like in the past, his money will be used to fund false, deceiving, and misleading political ads—and lots of them. But, unlike gun-rights organizations, his Achilles heal is that he doesn't have a hardcore base that believes in his vision of a tyrannical government with gun control as one of its cornerstones."
It's unclear at this point how much money gun-rights activists plan to spend in the upcoming Virginia elections. Van Cleave said his group's political action committee would be spending in the race, but he didn't yet know how much. The National Rifle Association's political arm has already released an ad supporting Herring's Republican opponent John Adams but did not release how much it plans to spend in the Virginia elections.
Gun-control groups heavily outspent gun-rights groups in the 2015 race with gun-control activists spending more than $2.4 million while gun-rights activists spend less than $80,000.