Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe arrives to speak during an election night event after winning the Democratic primary for governor on June 8, 2021, in McLean, Virginia.

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CNN  — 

A gun-control group that helped turn Virginia blue two years ago plans to spend more than $1.8 million in a bid to shape the state’s gubernatorial race and other down-ballot contests this fall, according to spending plans shared first with CNN.

Everytown for Gun Safety, backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, plans to pump roughly $1 million into its efforts to elect Democrat Terry McAuliffe, with another $500,000 going to support a dozen Democrats running for the House of Delegates.

An additional $300,000 will aid the campaigns of state lawmaker Hala Ayala, who is running for lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term as attorney general.

John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown, said the group likely will drive even more money this fall into contests in Virginia, which he said would serve as a “bellwether” for the 2022 midterm elections and the potency of gun violence as a campaign issue.

“Voters are seeing an epidemic within an epidemic,” he said. “We’ve had to deal with the Covid pandemic, but what we’re also seeing is a rise in violent crime, and that’s making voters even more supportive of gun-safety laws.”

In 2019, Everytown was one of the biggest outside political players in Virginia, spending $2.5 million in legislative elections that saw Democrats take control of the state’s executive and legislative branches for the first time in more than two decades.

McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, already has sought to make guns an issue in the race. A recent McAuliffe television ad featured law enforcement officials in the state, who linked gun control to public safety.

McAuliffe and Everytown have sparred in the past. In 2016, when he was governor, the group targeted him over a legislative deal he had struck with gun-rights advocates, and he knocked Everytown as an outside group meddling in state politics.

Everytown officials say the former governor has demonstrated his commitment to the issue.

McAuliffe’s election opponent, Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive, has said he’s a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association and a Second Amendment defender. But he also has sought to appeal to moderate voters in this increasingly Democratic state during the general election and has avoided answering some candidate surveys this year. The NRA put a question mark next to his name – where it usually issues grades to candidates.

Youngkin has described filling out interest group surveys as something that “lifetime politicians” do during a campaign and then act differently once elected. He said he’s focused on talking to voters.

The Everytown spending announcement comes as the fall campaign begins to heat up. McAuliffe and Youngkin are set to debate Thursday at Appalachian Law School in Grundy, Virginia – the first of two planned debates before the election.

Shannon Watts – who runs Everytown’s main grassroots arm, Moms Demand Action – is scheduled to campaign over the weekend in Virginia with McAuliffe, Ayala and other Democrats.

Feinblatt said the group plans TV and digital ads, along with mailers. And volunteers from its grassroots organizations plan to knock on doors “until people don’t want to hear from them again.”