- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2016

Gun rights supporters are grappling with how to approach U.S. Senate races this cycle in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the lines are less clear than they are in the presidential race.

In Ohio, GOP Sen. Rob Portman is running for a second term against former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who had the backing of the National Rifle Association in 2010, when he lost his gubernatorial re-election race.

But gun rights advocates now say they’ve been betrayed by the former governor, who sided with President Obama earlier this year after the president declared he would only back candidates who supported stricter gun controls.

The National Rifle Association’s political victory fund is urging voters to support Mr. Portman, and said in a flier that Mr. Strickland “is turning his back on law-abiding gun owners” by pushing a gun control agenda championed by Mr. Obama, likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Still, Charlie Curie, a 63-year-old veterinarian from the state who attended the NRA’s recent convention in Kentucky, said he’d have no problem with either Mr. Portman or Mr. Strickland because of the Democrat’s past history on gun rights.

“Portman’s good; I don’t have a problem with Portman, but I think he has a tough candidate in Strickland,” Mr. Curie said. “As far as Strickland goes, he’s a Republican that runs under the Democratic platform, in my opinion.”

Doug Deeken, with the group Ohioans for Concealed Carry, said his group endorsed Mr. Strickland in 2010 as well, but said he has not been pleased with the Democrat’s posturing on the issue since then.

“Now that he’s coming back to Ohio to run for U.S. Senate, I’m sure he’s going to try to reform his image with us,” Mr. Deeken said. “But we are very much a ‘fooled once, shame on you, fooled twice, shame on me’ kind of crew.”

The NRA has already endorsed presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has staked out staunchly pro-gun positions ahead of a potential match-up against Mrs. Clinton, who favors stricter controls.

But in the battle for the U.S. Senate, there are also several Republican incumbents running for re-election who have tried to carve out more moderate stances in certain areas, such as gun rights.

Overall, Republicans hold an effective 54-46 majority in the U.S. Senate, but are defending more than twice the number of seats as Democrats in the 2016 cycle, including a handful in states Mr. Obama carried twice.

GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who helped lead a high-profile push to expand background checks after the 2012 Newtown school shootings, has defended his record on the issue, even featuring a prominent gun control proponent in the state in one ad.

“For six years, I’ve been an advocate for common sense gun policy, and I’ve seen firsthand the courage that Sen. Pat Toomey has shown to stand up and do what’s right,” Nancy Grogan, with the group CeaseFirePA, says in the 30-second spot.

Mr. Toomey is running against Democrat Kathleen McGinty, whose campaign says he has now moved in the wrong direction and has caved to groups like the NRA.

Robert Preston, an administrator with the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association website, said there hasn’t been much discussion about the Senate race on the group’s forums, but that its membership would pick the lesser of two evils when it came to gun control.

“PAFOA, and its membership, is not a fan of Toomey,” Mr. Preston said in an email. “But if the choice is between Toomey and a much more anti-gun opponent — Toomey would likely get a backing, or PAFOA, and its membership, may [choose] to back another candidate in defiance.”

Other Republicans who voted for the ultimately unsuccessful background check legislation in April 2013 include Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and John McCain of Arizona, both of whom are also in tough re-election battles this year.

Elsewhere, the issue is playing out along more traditional partisan lines. The political arm of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun control group co-founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, recently endorsed Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in her challenge to incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.

A deranged gunman killed six people and wounded about a dozen others, including Ms. Giffords, at one of her constituent events in Tucson in January 2011.

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