A gun control group chaired by Michael Bloomberg was unable to shift control of the Virginia legislature on Tuesday despite spending more than $2.4 million.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group chaired by the billionaire former mayor of New York City, spent $2,368,655 in support of five Virginia state senate races and one house race. The group gave another $40,000 to Common Good VA, a PAC formed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe that contributed most of its money to races that Everytown targeted. The donations were part of an effort by gun control advocates to prove their cause could win at the ballot box despite decades of conventional wisdom saying otherwise.
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"Even in the NRA’s backyard, political leaders are standing up against gun lobby interests and pledging to put gun safety, and the safety of Virginians, first," John Feinblatt, the group’s president, told the Washington Post in the lead-up to the elections. "The political calculus has changed, and this is what Virginians and Americans expect our elected leaders to do to prevent gun violence."
"I need one seat to get control of the Senate, and we can pass common sense gun laws," Gov. McAuliffe said on MSNBC’s Hardball the night before the election.
Their efforts were ultimately futile as both the House and Senate remained in Republican hands after Tuesday’s elections, which left the overall makeup of Virginia’s government virtually unchanged. Republicans retained 21 Senate seats, maintaining their slim majority in the upper chamber. The party also held 66 of their 67 seats in the house.
Two of the six candidates backed by Everytown, Jeremy McPike and Jennifer Wexton, won their races. Democrats Dan Gecker, Kim Adkins, Sara Townsend, and Gary McCollum lost. Everytown spent $2,353,857 on McPike and Gecker.
The National Rifle Association, which gave only $45,850 to campaigns, said that 92 percent of the candidates it endorsed won on Tuesday. The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group based in the commonwealth, spent $32,500 supporting candidates, 27 of the candidates it endorsed won their races.
Everytown responded optimistically to the election results.
"Gun safety prevailed on the NRA’s home turf because we made sure that every voter knew where the candidates stood on gun safety," Feinblatt said in a statement.
The group went further in a fundraising email to supporters saying that "supporters like you successfully defended gun sense champions all across the state and beat back NRA-endorsed candidates who would have weakened our state’s gun laws."
"Together, we answered the call to do "whatever it takes," and as a result, the NRA had to shell out money just to defend candidates in their own backyard," the email said before soliciting donations.
Gun rights activists and political observers had a different take on the race.
"Amazing Powhatan turnout," Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic political operative told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Definitely Bloomberg backlash."
The NRA said that the election was a failure for gun control. "Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control group spent millions trying to buy the Virginia Senate," the group said in a post on its Facebook page. "They failed yesterday, and they’ll fail again in 2016! Gun control is a losing issue, and we won’t stop fighting to protect the Second Amendment!"
"The failure to take control of the Senate puts a major kink in Bloomberg and McAuliffe’s anti-gun plans for Virginia," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.