Giffords’s gun group ready to fight for vulnerable Democrats

Gabby Giffords’s gun control group says this year it’ll have the backs of vulnerable Democrats who took tough votes on background check legislation.

Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the gun control organization launched by the former Arizona Democratic congresswoman and her husband Mark Kelly, plans to get heavily involved in a handful of 2014 midterm contests that could help her party keep control of the Senate.

ADVERTISEMENT
“We’ll be one of the biggest outside groups,” ARS Executive Director Pia Carusone told The Hill. “We’re not in this as a ceremonial gesture. We want to win.”

The push comes three years after a mentally ill gunman gravely wounded Giffords and killed six others at a district event.

Carusone said ARS is just starting to make decisions on what races it will be involved with. But Democrats in red states and swing contests who backed the bipartisan legislation to tighten background checks are at the top of the group’s list to protect— including Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), two top GOP targets.

“It’s safe to say if you supported the expanded background check bill this past spring we’ll be looking very closely at your race,” she said. “We’re doing early research and looking closely at the dynamics of the races.”

The goodwill from the group could be bipartisan. Carusone said the group might back some Republicans who’ve supported background checks as well but admitted the group will likely spend much more money helping Democrats.

“There are more Democrats willing to support gun violence prevention policies than Republicans, but there are a handful of Republicans and we’ll certainly be there for them too,” she said.

The approach to focus on positive ads and help gun control allies stands in contrast to that of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), the other major player in this year’s elections who’s pushing a gun control agenda (and who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Giffords’s group). Bloomberg has been more focused on targeting gun control opponents, even if it means going against Democrats.

The different tone reflects the way in which Giffords and Kelly are focused on changing the conversation around guns — both are gun owners who want to find common ground and hope to boost centrist lawmakers. 

“In five years it could be very common to have candidates everywhere running and winning on guns,” Carusone said.

A Bloomberg spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Bloomberg has spent heavily through both Mayors Against Illegal Guns and his super-PAC, Independence USA, to attack highly vulnerable Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) for his vote against background checks and to stop former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), who didn’t back some gun control legislation, from winning an open-seat Democratic primary in a special election last year.

Bloomberg’s ad against Pryor, the most vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, featured a woman whose friend was killed. The woman says in the ad that Pryor “let us down” with his vote. The Arkansas Democrat released his own ad slamming Bloomberg’s involvement. 

Bloomberg also spent heavily on negative ads against Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli. Giffords’ organization teamed with Bloomberg’s groups to spend nearly $2 million in Virginia last year, helping Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and other Democrats sweep the state’s highest offices for the first time in decades.

The former New York City mayor also recently cut a $2.5 million check to the Senate Majority PAC, the main super-PAC focused on helping Democrats maintain Senate control, and he spent heavily on two losing state senate recall races in Colorado. He’s also made a six-figure donation to ARS, a group he’s worked closely with.

Carusone declined to say how much the group had in the bank for the races but pointed out that it raised a combined $11 million in the first six months of 2013 and has “raised lots more since then.”

That money could be used to help not just Hagan and Landrieu, but also other Democrats, including Sens. Al Franken (Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), who don’t find themselves in highly competitive contests but could be in trouble if the environment sours.

Carusone also indicated the group would be careful in how it approached helping its allies and suggested it might focus on other, candidate-specific issues to aid them. The organization’s ads focused more on Cuccinelli’s opposition to the Violence Against Women Act than his views on guns, for instance.

“We’re not new to politics and we understand in some races, running on gun violence prevention isn’t your winning issue,” she said.