In an effort to change the polarity of the narrowly Republican-controlled Virginia Senate, Everytown is tossing an unprecedented amount of cash into a local election.
With the chamber under razor-thin 21-19 GOP control, one of the most hotly contested seats is for the 10th District, encompassing the Powhatan suburbs outside of Richmond.
When long term Republican Sen. John Watkins, who has held the seat since 1998, announced last November he would not seek reelection, it sparked a scramble to grab the open spot that has come down to a fight between Republican Glen H. Sturtevant and Democrat Daniel A. Gecker.
Now former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund is plunking down $700,000 on Gecker’s behalf.
The money isn’t going towards bumper stickers and cardboard signs. Instead, it will be used for a media blitz of the Richmond area, beginning this week, attacking Sturtevant over his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, who has chipped in $56,000 to support the local school board member in his quest to replace Watkins.
“The gun lobby gives Sturtevant an ‘A.’ They are funding his candidacy. He’ll make Virginia less safe,” reads a narrator interspersed between remarks made by Andy Parker, whose daughter, WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker, was killed in the vicious on-air fatal shooting earlier this year.
Since her death and that of cameraman Adam Ward, the surviving Parker has vowed to become the “John Walsh of gun control” and has ended his own quest for local office to appear frequently at gun control events in the Northern Virginia area. Recently he looked on as Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a staunch anti-gun Democrat, signed a series of executive orders in Richmond aimed at increasing prosecutions of illegal gun sales and banning firearms in state-controlled buildings.
Although unlisted on Everytown’s YouTube account, Parker linked the ad from his social media account Wednesday saying, “We released the hounds…”
McAuliffe, himself backed by an extensive infusion of Bloomberg funds in his 2013 election, has repeatedly seen gun control proposals backed by his office fail in the state senate.
The move to pump so much money into a race for local office has some political commentators taking notice.
“For one group to put $700,000 into one-issue ads has to be unprecedented in state Senate races, particularly for a group from outside Virginia,” Robert D. Holsworth, a former political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“This buy, because it’s so overwhelming, could well define the campaign,” Holsworth said.
While it may be new to Virginia, Everytown’s efforts to throw pallets of cash into the ring to muscle pro-gun control candidates into seats in state legislatures have produced results elsewhere.
A push in Oregon last fall that funneled $600,000 into Chuck Riley’s senate campaign allowed him to unseat a GOP incumbent who was against expanding background checks on guns. Among the freshman senator’s first acts was to become a lead sponsor of SB 941, a proposal that expanded background checks to include most private gun transfers.
Back in Virginia, Sturtevant’s campaign was quick to respond to the ad buy. In a statement, Powhatan County Sheriff Greg Neal, former state attorney general Jerry Kilgore and others voiced their support for the nominee, vilifying the Bloomberg-backed effort and calling Sturtevant a friend of law enforcement that was committed to public safety.