Florida’s Midterms Loom Large in ‘March for Our Lives’

Feb. 14 school mass shooting pushes gun violence to forefront in campaigns

Catherine Monroe, 19, who drove all night from Gainesville, Fla., rests near the Capitol Reflecting Pool before joining the student-led March for Our Lives rally on Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday to call for action to prevent gun violence. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Catherine Monroe, 19, who drove all night from Gainesville, Fla., rests near the Capitol Reflecting Pool before joining the student-led March for Our Lives rally on Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday to call for action to prevent gun violence. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 24, 2018 at 5:26pm

Todd Foote came to Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” in Washington because of his son Austin.

Austin is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people last month. Scott Beigel, his cross-country coach, was among the victims. So were four of his friends. His best friend’s sister was in the hospital for two weeks.

Foote describes himself as a registered Republican.

“But this has changed everything” he said. “I will never vote for politicians who are pawns of the [National Rifle Association].”

Foote and his family were among many Floridians who came to the nation’s capital Saturday to voice their concerns about Congress’ response — or the lack of one — to gun violence.

Many demonstrators voiced anger at lawmakers who, in their opinion, had failed to do enough. In Florida, where the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Broward County is still fresh, what candidates are willing to do in response to gun violence has taken on a new importance in midterm campaigns.

Watch: ‘Vote Them Out’ — Thousands March on Washington to Protest Inaction on Gun Violence

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Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was one of many Democrats from the Florida delegation who took part in the march .

“I think it is so monumental that every candidate for every office that is on ballot is going to have an answer ready: Do you care more about NRA than protecting students lives?” she said.

Florida’s senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, also was at the march. Since the Parkland shooting, he has become increasingly vocal about changing gun laws.

His potential Republican challenger, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, signed into law a new set of gun regulations earlier this month.

The bill, passed by Florida’s Legislature, raises the minimum age for purchasing many weapons to 21, bans bump stocks for firearms and creates a three-day waiting period for certain gun purchases.

The legislation also allows courts to prevent people with mental illness from obtaining a firearm.

But the law also contains a provision that would let school personnel who are not teachers carry firearms if local governments allow it and if the they complete 132 hours of training.

“This is a far different way of operating than the typical inefficiency we see from the federal government in Washington,” Scott said during the bill’s signing. “Politics in D.C. seems to always get in the way of actually enacting measures that will help American families.”

Mixed reactions

Floridians participating in Saturday’s march in D.C. were divided about the legislation Scott signed.

Lana Duca, a student at Florida State University, criticized the governor for not facing her and other protesters who demonstrated last month in the capital, Tallahassee.

“What I find frustrating is that Rick Scott did make a few changes for Florida, but he also wouldn’t come and show his face when there were 2,000 people at his front door asking him to do more,” she said.

Scott did not attend the march in Washington or any other anti-gun violence demonstration Saturday. More than 800 such events were planned across the country and around the world.

Todd Foote said he and his wife Denise had called “every single member” of the state Legislature to urge them to pass the law later signed by Scott, whose actions he sees as positive.

“He actually bucked the NRA, which I’m very happy with,” Foote said.

But he’s not sure how he’ll vote in the Senate race this November.

“The fact Scott stood up to the NRA, I’m leaning towards him because I do espouse a lot of those principles,” he said. But if Scott “starts to kind of fall backwards and fall back into the NRA’s trap,” Foote said, he’d consider voting for Nelson.

Broad support

Democrats from other states — including a couple who may be contemplating a presidential run in 2020 — also lent their support to Saturday’s march in D.C.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker accompanied students from Newark, where he was mayor before getting elected, after they met in his Senate office.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has changed her position on guns dramatically since her days as an upstate New York congresswoman who said she had two guns under her bed, came to the march with her sons.

And Gil Cisneros, a candidate for the competitive open seat in California’s 39th District, marched in Washington and tweeted a photo of himself with former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who has become a vocal advocate for gun control after being shot in the head a 2011 congressional event in Tucson.

Similar events were held across the nation.

In Morristown, New Jersey, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer joined Democratic hopeful Mikie Sherrill in the heart of a longtime Republican district that has a competitive race for the first time in decades.

Sherrill is running for the 11th District seat being vacated by 12-term Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen.

“This feels very hopeful, that we can take back the narrative of what this country stands for,” Sherrill said.

Even though she’s running for office, Sherrill — and Hoyer — were adamant that the spirit of the march was nonpartisan.

“It’s Republicans, Democrats, independents, who have come together and said, ‘We need to get a handle on gun violence,’” said Hoyer, who attended a march with Rep. Josh Gottheimer in the 5th District earlier in the day.

But the energy on the ground is giving Democrats hope about flipping the House.

The party is targeting four New Jersey districts this year, and sees well-educated and affluent communities like this one paving its path to a House majority.

Morristown had its own women’s march earlier this year, which Sherrill said drew 15,000 people. “The women’s march was a lot more people my age,” she said. “But this is student-led and driven. And the middle-aged people are engaged. It’s just across the board.”

Watch: After Parkland, A Look at Previous Gun Control Efforts in Congress

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Simone Pathé contributed to this report.