New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who for years has blamed Virginia and its gun laws for helping funnel criminals’ firearms into New York City, wants to have a say in who becomes the commonwealth’s next governor.
The outgoing mayor’s political action committee, Independence USA, is shelling out more than $1 million to support Democratic businessman Terry McAuliffe in the final weeks of his high-profile race against Republican Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, looking to push a relatively overlooked issue in the race to the forefront.
Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts on the subject have garnered him praise and scorn alike from voices on both sides of the debate, who question the effectiveness of the polarizing billionaire’s targeting of Republicans and Democrats who disagree with his take on gun control to advance a cause elevated to the national consciousness since the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Despite recent polls that show overwhelming public backing for some measures the mayor supports, such as closing the state’s gun show loophole, a majority of Virginians also prefer that Mr. Bloomberg stay out of the commonwealth’s business.
A Quinnipiac University survey of Virginia voters in August showed that 52 percent think Mr. Bloomberg shouldn’t get involved in Virginia issues. That was after the mayor commented that out-of-state guns — including those from Virginia — are being used to commit crimes in New York.
Still, 43 percent of those surveyed said the state legislature should try to address the claims.
The comment renewed a spat between Mr. Bloomberg and Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, that began in 2007. The mayor, a Republican turned independent, sent armed investigators into gun stores in Virginia to try to buy guns in order to demonstrate his point and was ordered by Mr. McDonnell to stop. The state’s attorney general threatened to charge them with felonies. A Bloomberg-backed group ran ads against Mr. McDonnell during the 2009 governor’s race.
Mr. Cuccinelli on Tuesday hoped to capitalize on popular resentment against Mr. Bloomberg, immediately deriding the news of the ad buys by Independence USA PAC, which was first reported by Politico.
“Let me be clear: big money is pouring into Virginia from New York City to severely restrict your 2nd Amendment rights,” Mr. Cuccinelli wrote in a fundraising appeal.
On the national stage, Mr. Bloomberg’s electoral record on the issue has defied partisan classification — and his results have been mixed.
After the Senate’s failure to pass legislation to expand gun-purchase background checks in April, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group co-founded by Mr. Bloomberg, launched ads targeting Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, as well as Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, all of whom voted against the measure.
Mr. Pryor, who is up for re-election next year, dinged Mr. Bloomberg in his first campaign ad and issued a curt tweet in response to the news: “I don’t take gun advice from the Mayor of NYC. I listen to Arkansans.”
Top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York said Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts weren’t helping the cause they were advancing.
“I spoke to the mayor this week — he and I have been friends for some time — to remind him, just as I’ve reminded everyone here, that to have Republicans in control of the Senate is a sure sign we will never ever get anything done,” Mr. Reid said in June.
Mr. Bloomberg poured $1 million into the Senate campaign of Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker — a board member of Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation — at a time when Mr. Booker’s lead over Republican Steve Lonegan was dipping, and the Democrat ended up winning by about 11 percentage points.
But he also waded into two state Senate recall elections in Colorado that were prompted by a backlash to new gun control legislation. Both candidates lost.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, recently told USA Today that it’s “probably not a bad idea” for groups such as Mr. Bloomberg’s to stay away from a would-be recall election involving state Sen. Evie Hudak, a Democrat.
“I do think that, again, getting the real facts out on some of these issues — I mean, universal background checks is not the ‘ogre,’ it’s not the evil, demonic taking of guns that it’s been presented as,” Mr. Hickenlooper said.
In 2007, Mr. Bloomberg campaigned for former state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, a Republican from Northern Virginia, in her unsuccessful re-election bid against Democrat J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen of Fairfax.
“This may be an effort to put a win in Bloomberg’s column by entering the political discussion in Virginia,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “But the polls show that long before we heard of Michael Bloomberg, there was a significant gap favoring McAuliffe. There’s an old saying: ‘Victory has a thousand fathers.’ And I think Bloomberg wants to be one of them.”
Mr. McAuliffe has held a modest but steady lead in the Virginia race, though a poll released Tuesday by Rasmussen Reports gave him a 17-point edge over Mr. Cuccinelli, 50 percent to 33 percent.