Guns are becoming the prop of choice in campaign ads around the country this midterm year.
Take it as another sign that the Obama administration’s gun control push is running aground: Firearms have become this year’s go-to accessory for candidates of both parties seeking to advertise their toughness and willingness to fight.
Republicans, and even some Democrats, in a dozen states are showing off their shooting skills in videos and television ads or posing with firearms in mailers, underscoring the backlash against federal and state proposals to restrict access to guns and ammunition.
This year’s tone was set by Republican Joni Ernst, who won the Iowa Senate primary in June after running a television ad that shows her firing at a bull’s-eye at a shooting range while promising to “unload” on Obamacare. She now faces Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley.
“Give me a shot,” quips Ms. Ernst in the ad.
The Iowan is by no mean the only one locked, loaded and ready for her close-up.
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Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan, who’s running for Senate, kicked off his campaign after the August primary with a memorable ad in which he shoots a television set in response to negative campaign advertising.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association announced Wednesday the launch of an $11.4 million national ad campaign, starting with Republican Senate contests in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina.
“Our Second Amendment rights are under attack by the Obama administration and Sen. Mark Udall,” says one 30-second ad unveiled on the Politico website to be aired in Colorado. “That’s why we need leaders like Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate to fight back for us.”
The next round of ads, a mix of TV, radio and digital spots, will promote Republican Senate candidates in Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa and Louisiana, according to an NRA press release.
Chuck Michel, the NRA’s attorney in California, said the gun rights base is primed to turn out at the polls this year after witnessing the recent spate of “counterproductive legislation that restricts their rights.”
“What’s new this election cycle is that some politicians have realized that folks who choose to own a gun for sport or to defend their families are now truly motivated — and even mad,” said Mr. Michel.
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The phenomenon has become so widespread that it prompted liberal TV network MSNBC to post Monday an online poll asking, “Are candidates acting insensitively firing guns in their campaign ads?”
Republicans aren’t the only ones picking up their shotguns. In fact, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia is widely credited with popularizing the strategy when he won election in 2010 after a television ad showed him loading a rifle and shooting a copy of the cap-and-trade bill.
Washington Democrat Estakio Beltran released a campaign video in July showing him taking aim at a pinata elephant. He hit the pinata but narrowly missed qualifying for the November ballot, placing third in the 12-candidate blanket House primary.
Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said the firearm-friendly strategy has several advantages: It helps drive voter turnout by appealing to an enthusiastic voting bloc while allowing candidates to play up their local roots and autonomy from Washington, D.C.
“It’s a passionate issue. The kind of people who care about it really care about it and really vote,” said Mr. Ciruli. “Democrats need to show independence from the standard liberal wing in Washington, including President Obama. They’re anxious to show they’re really local. It’s both separating themselves and declaring independence from Washington.”
In Kentucky, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes tried to put some distance between herself and the president with a television ad launched Monday that shows her skeet shooting.
She’s running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who at a political conference in Washington this year appealed to gun owners by posing for a photo in which he displays an antique rifle over his head with one hand.
“I’m not Barack Obama. I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA,” says Ms. Grimes, rifle in hand.
“And Mitch,” she says in reference to that photo, “that’s not how you hold a gun.”
Of course, the tactic can backfire. After Ms. Grimes’ ad aired, the McConnell campaign responded Tuesday with a television spot that says she supports gun control and cracks, “Allison Grimes thinks shooting a gun will convince you she’s not like Barack Obama.”
The McConnell ad then juxtaposes a photo of Ms. Grimes aiming a rifle with a 2012 picture of Mr. Obama doing the same.
“You know who else did a publicity stunt firing a gun? Barack Obama,” says the ad.