Just when it had become clear from the Colorado recalls that the NRA and its allies had scared Democrats around the land from ever mentioning guns again, it seems that not all the votes had been counted.
In the Virginia gubernatorial election, for example, the story reads a little differently. The governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli was about a lot of things – but one of those things was definitely guns. In their final debate, which just happened to be on the Virginia Tech campus, Cuccinelli, a hard-right conservative, brought up his A rating from the NRA.
He bragged about his A — I kept waiting for him to tell us his SAT scores — and then took a swipe at McAuliffe, the Democrat, who got, yes, an F from the NRA.
McAuliffe was ready. He was proud of his F.
“I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA,” he said. “I never want to see another Newtown or Aurora or Virginia Tech again.”
Guns probably weren’t the reason McAuliffe won. But, more to the point, he won despite taking on the NRA directly, in the state where the NRA is headquartered, in a state that has its own cultural attachment to guns, in a purple-trending-blue state much like our own.
McAuliffe’s views on gun control are not much different from what passed in Colorado. Universal background checks. Closing gun show loopholes. Limiting magazine capacities. If McAuliffe won on these issues in Virginia and three state senators lost on them in Colorado, that suggests the issue is a little more complicated than it seems. It also suggests that even politics is not always a zero-sum game.
At the risk of understatement, McAuliffe was not exactly a great candidate. He’s a Washington money man who is tied closely to the worst tendencies of the Clintons. And it had been decades since a Democrat won in Virginia when a Democrat was also in the White House.
But it wasn’t only McAuliffe who won. So did the rest of the Virginia Democratic ticket. Kevin O’Holleran, who managed Democrat Mark Herring’s winning campaign for attorney general, wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post about guns and how he was advised to stay far, far away from the issue.
“Like much conventional wisdom,” he wrote, “this was wrong — and we not only ignored this advice but did the opposite. There were stark differences between Herring and his Republican opponent, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), on gun safety. Obenshain opposed comprehensive background checks and opposed closing the gun-show loophole. He opposed former governor Douglas Wilder’s landmark ‘one-gun-a-month’ legislation. Obenshain also made a habit of voting for such irresponsible proposals as allowing guns in bars and restaurants where alcohol is served.”
Herring ran on guns – and won, if barely.
So, what’s the lesson? You can count on Republicans making guns — and gun reform — big issues in the 2014 Colorado gubernatorial race. In the meantime, Republicans in the legislature will aim to repeal some of the laws. It looks like a winning issue for them. Of course, it probably looked that way in Virginia, too.