Anti-gunner points to trailing candidates as evidence that gun control is a winning message

Anti-gunner points to trailing candidates as evidence that gun control is a winning message
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

I understand why gun control activists like Karen Dolan, who heads up the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, are loudly proclaiming that “commonsense gun control is a winning message” in the midterms, but that doesn’t mean that she’s right. In fact, in a number of key races around the country where Democrats are running on a pro-gun control platform, their messaging appears to be falling flat.

Things are actually so dismal for gun control groups in some races that they’re running ads focusing on abortion at least as much as the anti-gun policies they support, presumably because a purely anti-gun pitch wasn’t moving the needle in focus groups testing out their campaign messaging. Dolan insists, however, that come Election Day, gun control advocates are going to come up big. Two of her prime examples of politicians running on an anti-gun platform, however, are trailing their pro-2A opponents in recent polling.

Rep. Lucy McBath, whose son was murdered in a shooting, won a series of tough races in Georgia with a message about stopping gun violence. Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is running on a gun-control agenda in the same state. And in Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is challenging the NRA-funded Gov. Greg Abbot on a gun safety agenda, with voters saying they trust O’Rourke more on the issue of guns.

Elections are complicated, so these candidates may or may not triumph. But their willingness to take on the gun industry and its special interest front groups shouldn’t be surprising. More than two-thirds of voters told pollsters they want stricter gun control measures in a June survey by Morning Consult and Politico. So a commonsense message about stricter gun laws should be a winning one.

McBath did pull of an upset in Georgia’s 6th District back in 2018, defeating Republican Karen Handel by a little more than 3,000 votes in the Republican-leaning district. Rather than run in the 6th District this year, however, McBath chose to run in the much more Democrat-friendly 7th District, which the Cook PVI lists as a D+10 stronghold.

McBath is considered the substantive favorite in her race this fall, but the same can’t be said of the other two “gunsense” candidates that Dolan has lavished with praise. Stacey Abrams, running on a gun-control agenda in Georgia as she attempts to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp, is currently trailing her Republican opponent by an average of five points in the RealClearPolitics polling average, with the most recent survey of voters in Georgia giving Kemp a 9-point lead; 53-44 in favor of the Republican governor who signed Constitutional Carry into law.

The news is even worse for Dolan’s hypothesis in Texas, where Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke is 8.5-points behind incumbent Greg Abbott in pre-election polls. And Dolan is simply wrong when she claims that voters trust O’Rourke more than Abbott on the issue of “gun violence.” I took a look at the poll that Dolan linked to in her piece and found that Abbott and O’Rourke were actually tied in the survey.

That’s hardly evidence that O’Rourke is going to ride the gun control bandwagon to a gubernatorial victory, especially considering the fact that when those same voters were asked who they trust more to do a better job on public safety, O’Rourke was well behind Abbott.

O’Rourke and Abrams aren’t the only Democrats who’ve seen their hardcore support for gun control fail to launch their campaigns into front-runner status. Dolan didn’t bring up former Dayton, Ohio mayor Nan Whaley for some reason, even though she’s largely based her campaign on her desire to impose more gun laws in the state. Whaley has repeatedly gone after Gov. Mike DeWine for not pushing through new restrictions after the mass shooting in Dayton back in 2019 as well as his support for things like Constitutional Carry and allowing school district to arm trained and vetted staff members. Whaley has said the Dayton shooting, in which nine people were murdered and another 17 injured, was the driving motivation behind her gubernatorial campaign, but as we highlighted a few days ago, most voters seem less than impressed by her candidacy,

According to RealClearPolitics, Dewine hasn’t just led in every poll of the state conducted since May, he’s led by double digits in every one. His “worst” performance, if you can call it that, was a Suffolk poll conducted early last month that had him leading 54-39. His RCP polling average has him leading Whaley by a whopping 17.4 points; truly phenomenal considering the tightness of the state’s Senate race.

… Whaley has tried to pick several political gunfights with DeWine since becoming the nominee; calling his signing Constitutional Carry into law back in March “shameless and disgraceful” and blasting his decision to allow school districts to have armed school staff without requiring them to first undergo more than 700 hours of law enforcement training, saying at multiple campaign stops that he ” doesn’t actually give a shit about whether you or your family are safe.”

So far anyway it appears that voters don’t give a shit about what Whaley thinks about gun control. DeWine’s support for the Second Amendment and student safety measures like allowing districts to adopt armed school staff policies if they choose to do so haven’t hurt him in the polls, at least, and the conventional wisdom in Ohio is that he’s set to cruise to victory even as the two Senate candidates duke it out until the waning hours of the campaign. I don’t want Ohio gun voters to get complacent by any means, but it is worth pointing out the political faceplant that Ohio’s “gunsense” candidate seems to be executing; and particularly the role that her support for restricting the right to armed self-defense is playing in her flailing campaign.
To be sure, there will be plenty of anti-gun candidates who win their races on Election Day. Gerrymandering alone ensures that anti-gun activists will be well-represented in Congress and statehouses next year. But in battleground state after battleground state, there’s simply no sign of any “gunsense” candidate running away with the election thanks to their support for gun control, no matter how much activists like Dolan want that to be the case.