Rare drop seen in NRA election spending
Washington – The National Rifle Association – long seen as a kingmaker in Republican politics – is taking a lower profile in this year’s high-stakes midterm campaign, a sign of the shifting dynamics of the gun debate as the GOP fights to maintain its grip on Congress.
The NRA has put $11 million into midterm races this year – less than half what it spent four years ago in a campaign that gave Republicans full control of Congress. This year’s totals are also far below the $54 million the group spent in 2016 on both the presidential and congressional races.
The shift comes as spending to support tougher gun control measures has surged. Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pledged $30 million for this year’s election, and has continued to put new money into competitive races in the final days. A political action committee formed by Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman wounded in a shooting, is spending nearly $5 million.
It’s the first time under current campaign finance laws that the NRA might be outspent by gun control groups, though the organization often ramps up spending late in the campaign. That money won’t show up in federal financial reports until after Election Day.
It all underscore a changing political landscape on guns after a series of election year mass shootings, including the February massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead, and Saturday’s deadly attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“The politics of guns has changed,” said Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The groups supporting more gun safety restrictions are smarter than in the past and have more resources, both in terms of people and money, than in the past.”
With polls showing that the majority of Americans now support at least some tightening of gun laws, the issue is no longer taboo in swing districts, particularly the suburban areas that could determine which party controls the House next year. Everytown and Giffords’ group are on the air in competitive districts in Texas, Virginia, Kansas and elsewhere.
After the Pittsburgh shooting, a Bloomberg aide said Everytown bought another $700,000 in advertisements aimed at ousting Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable Republican who represents a suburban Denver district – a significant sum to spend on a single House race in one week.
The group has also spent about $4 million in the Atlanta suburbs to back Democrat and gun control advocate Lucy McBath, whose son was shot and killed in 2012.
Despite the public polling, there are no guarantees that sending more pro-gun control lawmakers to Washington would result in tougher legislation. Modest measures have repeatedly been blocked in Congress, even as Americans have grown more supportive of steps like banning assault weapons and tightening background checks.
An NRA spokeswoman would not comment on the group’s election spending compared to organizations pushing for stricter gun laws.
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