Amid the continued national outrage over the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, some House Democratic challengers, particularly those in suburban districts, are eying a push for stricter gun laws as an issue they believe can help them retake the majority in November.
The politics of advocating for gun control are complicated for Democrats this year: The party is defending Senate seats in 10 states that President Donald Trump won in 2016 – with incumbents in states like Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia and Indiana who have shown no appetite for the issue.
And in rural House districts with more Second Amendment voters, Democrats also must tread carefully. Ahead of a March 13 special election in a deep-red House district in western Pennsylvania, for example, the Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb, has opposed any new restrictions on gun rights.
But that isn’t stopping candidates in the more ideologically diverse suburban districts from seizing on the student-led push for stricter gun laws.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was shot and killed in Ecuador when she was 24, is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in one of the nation’s most competitive House districts in South Florida. She’s vowing to press the Democratic Party to put the issue front and center.
“I have a feeling that it is a different moment,” Mucarsel-Powell told CNN.
She added, “There’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of frustration. And every time I’ve seen the shootings, time and time again, they shook me to the core – and they bring that pain that I maybe never fully dealt with. It’s a very painful issue.”
Some Democrats – including Dave Min, running against California Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, and Kim Schrier, opposing Dino Rossi for an open seat in Washington state, have called on their opponents to return National Rifle Association donations. In New Jersey, Democrat Linda Weber urged Republican Rep. Leonard Lance to disavow the NRA.
Brent Welder, a Democrat running in eastern Kansas, has attacked his opponent, Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, for having the backing of the NRA, calling the group “merely a front for the gun lobby.”
And in a new digital advertisement Thursday, Democrat Jason Crow, an Army Ranger and Afghanistan and Iraq veteran running in Colorado, hit Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, saying all Coffman does is “tweet about his thoughts and prayers” but does nothing “because of the money that he takes and the people that he’s loyal to.”
He continues in the ad: “When my 4-year-old daughter comes home from school and tells us about the bad guy drills that she has and how she had to hide in a dark closet to be quiet in case the bad guys ever came to their school – I’ve had enough of this.”
Coffman’s campaign manager, Tyler Sandberg, responded to the ad by calling Crow “another wannabe politician who takes the occasion of a national tragedy to cut a campaign commercial” and noted Coffman is open to banning automatic gun sales to anyone under 21 as well as “red flag” measures allowing guns to be taken away from anyone deemed a threat to themselves and others.
A major player in the Democratic gun control push is former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords sent an email to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ massive list this week and is endorsing Democratic House candidates.
The message: Stand up to the gun lobby and oust lawmakers who have bent to its will.
“They look at the most benign and practical solutions offered by moderates from each party, and then they look over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby and choose to do nothing,” she wrote. “This November, we are going to vote them out. But it will only happen if we stand together.”