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Democratic Ads Show Gun Violence Remains Salient Primary Issue

Candidates in at least three different primaries are running TV ads on the issue

Democratic candidates are continuing to talk about gun violence ahead of their primaries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democratic candidates are continuing to talk about gun violence ahead of their primaries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A gun control activist won her Democratic primary in Georgia on Tuesday, and she’s not the only Democrat talking about gun violence on the campaign trail even though the issue has largely faded from the headlines.

Lucy McBath, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, won a runoff to take on GOP Rep. Karen Handel in the suburban Atlanta-based 6th District. And Democratic candidates in at least three different districts have spent their campaign funds on television ads focused on gun violence, bringing the issue to the forefront ahead of their primaries next month.

Gun violence dominated the national debate for several weeks following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and staff members dead. The incident sparked activism from student survivors, which led to the March 24 “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington to call on lawmakers to address gun violence. (Similar rallies were held across the globe.)

Since then, while the Parkland students have launched a bus tour to register young voters ahead of the midterms, other issues have dominated the news. 

While it remains to be seen how much Democrats in competitive races will discuss gun violence and gun control policies in their general election campaigns, the ads are a sign that the issue remains a salient one among Democratic voters.

Watch: Gun Control Front and Center in Remaining Democratic Primaries

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Personal stories

Two candidates in upcoming competitive primaries have discussed guns in ads that also highlight their personal backgrounds.

On Tuesday, pediatrician Kim Schrier released her third television ad ahead of the Aug. 7 primary in Washington’s 8th District.

“When a parent tells me they think their son might be depressed, one of the first questions I ask is, ‘Is there a gun in the house?” Schrier says in the ad over footage of young men on screen. The spot will air on broadcast and cable networks and on digital platforms. 

Schrier is one of 12 candidates, including three other Democrats, vying to replace retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. Under Washington’s primary system, all candidates run on a single ballot, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to the general election. 

The 8th is a prime pickup opportunity for the Democrats looking to flip 23 seats this fall and win back the House. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the open-seat race a Toss-up. Schrier and a fellow Democrat, physician Shannon Hader, and attorney Jason Rittereiser have all earned the “Gun Sense Candidate” distinction from Moms Demand Action. 

Schrier’s campaign noted that she has continued to hear about the issue of gun violence from voters at campaign events, and while knocking on doors and making phone calls.  

In Kansas’ 3rd District, high school teacher Tom Niermann discussed gun violence in his first television ad, which launched July 12. Niermann is locked in a competitive six-way Democratic primary to take on GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder. Inside Elections rates the race Leans Republican.

“I never imagined I’d have to teach my kids how to ask if someone busted through the door with an assault weapon,” Niermann says in the ad. “No matter what [President Donald Trump], Republicans and the NRA say, we need common sense gun reform and we need it now.“ 

A Democratic operative working with Niermann said gun control remains a top issue among the party’s primary voters, along with health care.

Dividing lines?

The issue has also animated divisions in the Democratic primary in Arizona’s 2nd District, another targeted seat. Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who used to represent the 1st District, and physician Matt Heinz have dueling ads on the issue ahead of the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. Both are currently on the airwaves.

Heinz’s ad features coverage of recent mass shootings, and old footage of Kirkpatrick touting her A-rating from the NRA in her 2010 1st District race. The ad will continue to run for another week, according to Heinz campaign manager Brian Robinson, who said the issue has energized the candidate’s supporters.

Kirkpatrick has said she changed her mind on gun control, particularly after the 2011 shooting in Tucson, most of which is in the 2nd District. Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously injured during that shooting at a constituent event. Both Giffords and former Rep. Ron Barber, a onetime aide who succeeded her after she stepped down, have endorsed Kirkpatrick.

Barber, who was also wounded in the Tucson shooting, is featured currently in an ad by Kirkpatrick that’s currently on the air. In the spot, he says he is backing the former congresswoman due to her support for gun control policies.

A spokesman for Kirkpatrick said advocating stronger laws to prevent gun violence is among the positions that “make up the bedrock of being a progressive Democrat in 2018.”

Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Democratic.

Clarification 5:10 p.m.: Jason Rittereiser, a Democratic candidate in Washington’s 8th District, is also a Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate.

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