The gun debate roadblock you might not expect: Swing states


Republicans have little incentive to change course now, national strategists say, especially in swing states where gun ownership remains high and the GOP is riding a wave of momentum. Even Democrats in the most competitive Senate races this cycle — incumbents in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire — have been reluctant to make specific policy demands, instead offering vague suggestions that Something should be done to protect children.

“I think it’s going to be a very rare purple to red state where one of your highest-paying communication messages with independents is guns, under any circumstances,” said John Rowley, a Democratic strategist with experience. racing experience in rural America. “It will probably not be a crucial, decisive question. It will probably be something else.

While Herschel Walker easily won the Republican nomination in Georgia on Tuesday, GOP candidates in Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire are still battling in contested primaries. As condolences poured in Tuesday and Wednesday over the school shooting that left at least 21 dead, the two Republicans in the Nevada Republican Senate primary continued to broadcast campaign tweets, but avoided mentioning the deadly shootout.

In statements provided to POLITICO, they stuck to messages similar to those of other Republicans across the country who have been asked to address the issue: improve school safety and mental health services, but don’t touch firearms. Adam Laxalt has called for tapping into billions of dollars in remaining federal coronavirus relief funds to make schools safer, while Sam Brown said he won’t support laws that “try people without due process “, but suggested increasing mental health services.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who will face a competitive fight this fall in Wisconsin, dodged the question of whether he would support stricter background checks.

“No matter what you do, people fall through the cracks…these are tough issues,” Johnson said in an interview with Fox Business. He said “the solution lies” in stronger families, communities of faith and support, before pivoting to condemn the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

In Arizona, top Republicans vying for the Senate nomination told POLITICO they weren’t interested in talking about gun restrictions — a personal issue for Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, whose wife, Gabrielle Giffords, was seriously injured when, as a congresswoman, she was shot in 2011.

The state was ranked the most gun-friendly state in the country last year by Guns and Ammo magazine.

“The Democrats have it exactly backwards — they want to ban our guns, because they free violent criminals and defund the police,” GOP Arizona Senate nominee Blake Masters said in a statement. “We’re not going to ban guns – period.”

He went on to suggest that schools have armed and trained security guards and that society is “really fixing the culture” so that “fewer children grow up in isolated and broken homes”.

Mark Brnovich, the Republican state attorney general running for the Senate, said he hopes the country “reflects on our humanity instead of rushing to politicize such a heartbreaking tragedy.” A spokesperson for Jim Lamon, another top candidate, did not respond to a request for comment, and Lamon did not address the shooting on social media.

The reluctance of the Arizona GOP field to talk about bipartisan gun reform efforts or other new restrictions comes as guns figured prominently in their campaigns. Lamon gained national attention in February after airing a Super Bowl commercial of him fire to replacements for Kelly, President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Masters, meanwhile, released a campaign video last fall of himself holding a short-barreled shotgun.

“It was not designed for hunting. This is designed to kill people,” Masters said. in the video. “But if you’re not a villain, I support your right to own one.”

“I don’t think we’re going to see any Republican primary candidates talking about trying to fix it,” said Chuck Coughlin, an Arizona-based GOP strategist, referring to gun laws. “I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Unless they were acting completely out of conscience, I didn’t see this being played to political advantage.

Within days of each other, Republican candidates for the Pennsylvania Senate Dave McCormick and Mehmet Oz advertisements published last month showing themselves firing guns – in both cases firing bullets using three different types of guns.

The ads came as the two candidates, political outsiders who returned to Pennsylvania to run for the Senate seat, sought to prove their conservative bona fides to Republican voters in the face of intense attacks on their backgrounds.

Oz, in particular, has been forced to distance itself from past comments in favor of gun regulations, including banning semi-automatic weapons and implementing universal background checks and waiting periods. ‘waiting.

The two candidates – who are engaged in an official recount after Oz took a narrow lead in last week’s primary election – each posted on social media that they mourned those killed in the shooting, but stood by. refrained from proposing a change in gun laws.

Although the state’s Democratic Senate candidate, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, went so far as to outline specific gun policy goals in a statement this week – calling for “universal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” – even Democrats recognize that Pennsylvania has one of the highest gun ownership rate in the countryside.

When he first ran for Congress in 2018, Rep. Conor Lamb — whom Fetterman defeated in the state’s Democratic primary on May 17 — included in his opening TV advertising a photo of himself shooting a rifle on a shooting range.

“Always love shooting,” the narrator said of Lamb, after noting that he spent four years in the Marines.

The most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the Senate this fall are refraining from specific calls to round up assault weapons or implement sweeping changes to federal gun laws. Instead, they use measured language like “common sense” gun reform and “we need to act” when talking about the need to prevent gun violence in the future. While Kelly has previously voiced support for universal background checks, red flag laws and closing loopholes that allow domestic abusers to buy guns, the senator has so far refrained from commenting. call for specific policy proposals this week.

Justin Barasky, a strategist who recently served as a senior adviser to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said the reluctance of GOP candidates to discuss additional gun restrictions alone is unlikely to motivate undecided voters. But it “contributes to the growing problems Republicans have” with those voters, which also includes the party’s support for rolling back abortion rights.

“These kinds of things that Republicans are so vastly out of step on, I think hurt them in the swing zones — and that has been the case in the past,” Barasky said. “That’s one of the reasons Republicans lost in 2020.”

Several national strategists contacted for this story – on both sides of the aisle – said it’s likely only a matter of time before the conversation about gun violence picks up again. From their cynical perspective, swing-state Republicans are unlikely to face repercussions for keeping a low profile on the issue, as inflation and economic concerns, meanwhile, remain a top priority for the electors.

“One week is abortion, one week is weapons. A week is something else,” said a Republican involved in the Senate races. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of other issues that are going to come to the fore.”

In recent years, however, support for some gun restrictions has seemed to work in favor of some Republicans in the swing state. During a close re-election campaign in 2016, when polls showed Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) sometimes trailing his Democratic opponent, the Republican won PAC endorsement over Kelly’s anti-gun violence and Giffords. Their support came after he spearheaded a bipartisan gun reform bill that ultimately failed in the Senate.

Two years later, following a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a series of gun control measures. A month later, Scott officially announced his challenge to Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, a race he went on to win by a tenth of a percentage point.

Although Scott initially drew heat from some Republicans — and the National Rifle Association — for supporting the Parkland bill, he worked that year to repair his reputation on the right as a champion of the Second Amendment. On Election Day, he had also largely inoculated himself with criticism that he had failed to act on gun violence.

In the current political environment, some strategists see limited gun reform measures like red flag laws — which give law enforcement the ability to seek a judge’s approval to seize firearms. fire from a person in mental distress or who has threatened to harm another – as more feasible than most other possible restrictions.

A vulnerable Democrat in a state like Arizona should take on the issue relentlessly, Coughlin suggested, given favorable polls surrounding a narrow-scope policy to take guns from someone who has declared their intention to shoot others.

“Kelly could do that very effectively because he’s going to be very popular with unaffiliated voters,” Coughlin said. “And probably popular with the near majority of the Republican electorate, with the exception of primary voters – depending on what you say.”


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