On Tuesday, Democrats only need to keep their current share of the Senate and pick up four seats currently held by Republicans to win control of the upper chamber of Congress.
Gun politics, with senators likely to hold hearings on future Supreme Court nominees as early as next spring no matter who moves into the White House, has turned into a hot button issue in several races with groups allied on each side to support their candidates, often with deep pockets and extensive ad campaigns.
In Indiana, middle-of-the-road Republican Sen. Dan Coats is leaving the Senate after 27 years, leading to a battle between U.S. Rep. Todd Young, an “A” rated gun rights champion endorsed and backed in ads by the National Rifle Association against former Democrat Gov. Evan Bayh. In his former tenure on Capitol Hill, Bayh picked up an “F” from the NRA, largely for his vote against the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005, which insulated the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits. Pollsters have the race at a tossup.
Nevada is one of the few Democrat seats in motion with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement putting the spot in play between veteran U.S. Rep. Joe Heck and Democrat former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Mastro. Heck, who has been front and center on pro-gun bills in his time in the House, has netted $2.5 million in funding from the NRA while Cortez Mastro has not seen comparative support from gun control organs. According to polls, the race is a tossup.
In North Carolina, the NRA has invested heavily trying to prevent “F” rated Democrat Deborah Ross, a state lawmaker, from winning a seat in the U.S. Senate currently held by Richard Burr. The gun rights group has coughed up more than half of Burr’s funding, contributing $7.6 million through a variety of PACs and 501c committees towards keeping him in office. According to poll aggregator Real Clear Politics, the race between Burr and Ross is a statistical dead heat.
Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has benefited from $1.8 million in NRA dollars during his fight against Orlando-area U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. This has gone toward an ad onslaught featuring Mark “Oz” Geist, of the group’s Clinton Benghazi spot, slamming Murphy for being weak, while the congressman has repeatedly used the Pulse nightclub shooting as a rallying cry for movement on No Fly/No Buy legislation. Rubio is leading his challenger by roughly three points in the latest polls.
Missouri’s Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, has been locked in a back and forth campaign to pick up Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat. Kander drew national attention and celebrity status among gun control advocates by assembling a field-stripped AR-15 while blindfolded and voicing support for expanding background checks for those on terror watch lists, has been the subject of a $3 million series of ads in response by the NRA since then. The latest polls have Blunt pulling ahead by a very slim degree — typically within the margin of error.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has vetoed several gun rights bills in her time as the Granite State’s chief executive, has benefited from nearly $8.5 million in funding from PACs set up by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, is attempting to move U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte out of office. Ayotte in comparison has not seen much love from the NRA, only picking up $90,431 from the Second Amendment group, despite an official “A-” grade and endorsement. The latest polls show Ayotte pulling ahead from the Governor — but only by low single digit margins.
Ohio is the scene of a nearly $2.2 million push by the NRA to keep junior U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in place against a challenge from former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who was narrowly defeated by current Gov. John Kasich in 2010. Strickland has been the target of a number of ads by the gun rights group as being insincere on the Second Amendment after they strongly endorsed the Democrat in 2010 against Kasich. The race is polling very strongly towards a GOP double-digit win.
Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is fighting hard to keep his seat against the man who formerly held it, Democrat Russ Feingold, who has spent the past several years as a special envoy to Africa for the Obama administration. Feingold, who straddled the fence on gun votes while in Congress, has received about $20,000 from Everytown this cycle while the NRA has contributed about $600,000 towards keeping Johnson in office. Polls show the district tilting towards Feingold.
Pennsylvania’s junior Senator, Republican Pat Toomey, has consistently lent his support to expanded background check bills and it translated into an endorsement by Giffords, $3 million in support from Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC and a “C” rating snub from the NRA. Now, Democrat contender Katie McGinty, a former advisor to Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton who is in favor of “assault weapon” bans as part of her platform is leading Toomey slightly in the polls.