- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2014

Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s gun control group announced a round of candidate endorsements this week, but his plan to pour $50 million into gun control efforts appears to be struggling to find campaigns to back in nationally watched races.

Everytown for Gun Safety released its inaugural endorsement list and named candidates from 28 states: 17 U.S. Senate candidates, 61 candidates for the U.S. House and 32 candidates for state offices.

The group also endorsed several Republican candidates for the U.S. House in safe GOP districts and Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, who also is expected to win re-election. Everytown also announced that it will run television ads supporting Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber and Rep. Robin L. Kelly of Illinois, both Democrats in safe races.

The group is backing Democrats in close Senate races in Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina and elsewhere, but some key Democrats in such races aren’t on the list. In addition, more than half of the U.S. House candidates with endorsements are in districts that political analysts deem to be safely in Democrats’ hands, suggesting trouble finding high-profile candidates who could stand to benefit from Mr. Bloomberg’s help.

“These are candidates who have shown leadership in the fight to keep our communities safe from gun violence both on the state and federal level,” said Everytown President John Feinblatt.

With a potential budget of $50 million, Everytown has resources to pour into races, but financial support has been limited.

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Recent spending includes $12,500 on behalf of Ms. Kelly for production costs associated with a Web video and $18,400 in support of Chuck Riley, a former state representative in Oregon running for state Senate.

Other spending by the group isn’t tied directly to races this year.

This month, it launched a six-figure ad campaign protesting supermarket chain Kroger’s policies permitting open carry of loaded firearms while prohibiting items such as skateboards. It also ran television ads in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire over the summer in an effort to raise awareness about domestic violence and guns.

Less than two years after the Newtown school shooting spree, the lack of focus on guns in the election campaigns is stark.

“It is not an issue Democrats are using in any general way,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster. “There are obviously some exceptions, but not many.”

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said the stated $50 million figure is not necessarily meant for campaigns, but represents what he plans to spend on the issue through Everytown’s educational and advocacy efforts and through personal expenditures.

SEE ALSO: NRA launches ad campaign against Michael Bloomberg

Spokesman Stu Loeser also said the former mayor is preparing more direct expenditures and additional contributions. He pointed to $2.5 million Mr. Bloomberg already has given this cycle to Senate Majority PAC and $2 million to a committee affiliated with the pro-choice abortion group Emily’s List.

Senate Majority PAC is the organization closely affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. Emily’s List generally backs Democratic candidates.

The Senate Majority PAC has spent millions opposing Rep. Tom Cotton in the Senate race in Arkansas against Sen. Mark L. Pryor, who can hardly be counted as a Bloomberg ally.

Mr. Pryor released an ad confronting Mr. Bloomberg after the billionaire’s group, formerly known as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, went after the Democrat for voting against a measure to increase background checks for gun purchases in April 2013.

The Reid-affiliated PAC also is backing other Democratic candidates who have been at odds with Mr. Bloomberg’s agenda, such as Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, who also voted against the background check legislation, and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, who aired an ad showing her firing a gun to prove her gun rights bona fides.

Some Democrats did tout the endorsements this week.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, running to replace outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Don Beyer, a Democrat running to replace retiring Rep. James P. Moran in a solidly Democratic district in Northern Virginia, expressed their delight at gaining Everytown’s backing.

“It appears as though [Mr. Bloomberg is] trying to buy himself some headlines by investing in only safe races,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.

Most recently, Mr. Bloomberg’s Independence USA political action committee spent $150,000 attacking Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an outspoken gun rights advocate who narrowly won his Democratic primary last month.

Independence USA also gave $250,000 apiece to groups supporting incumbent Republican Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in their primary contests, both of which involve beating back challengers supported by the tea party.

The Bloomberg group last year put about $2.2 million into supporting Ms. Kelly in a special election and more than $700,000 in support of Sen. Cory A. Booker New Jersey Democrat.

Another competitive race where Everytown is getting involved is Colorado’s Senate seat, where Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, is trying to hold on against a challenge from Rep. Cory Gardner.

Two state-level Democrats in Colorado lost recall elections as a result of their support of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s push for gun controls in the wake of the December 2012 Newtown school shootings, making Mr. Bloomberg’s support controversial.

“Coloradans have repeatedly rejected Michael Bloomberg’s radical gun control agenda and they will reject Sen. Udall in November,” said Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano.

In Arizona, Everytown has endorsed Rep. Ron Barber, an Arizona Democrat who was shot by a deranged gunman in the same January 2011 spree that killed six people and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Ms. Giffords’ own super PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, has raised $17 million this year and is working to boost candidates who support gun control efforts.

But Everytown has devoted much of its resources this year to state-level initiatives. It has given $1 million to the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which is pushing a ballot initiative to tighten background checks for gun purchases in the state.

The group also has contributed more than $130,000 to an unsuccessful campaign against a ballot initiative in Missouri to reaffirm state residents’ Second Amendment rights.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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