Did Michael Bloomberg's 'Gun-Grabbing' Agenda Cost the Democrats the Virginia election?
When Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats study what went wrong for them in Tuesday’s crucial legislative elections, one possible mistake stands out: Their aggressive advocacy of gun control in a pivotal Senate race in the Richmond area may have backfired by producing a pro-Republican backlash.
In a race that proved decisive in enabling Republicans to retain control of the Senate, Republican Glen H. Sturtevant won the 10th District seat after benefiting from a huge turnout in conservative Powhatan County, which analysts attributed in part to the gun issue.
Sturtevant beat Democrat Daniel A. Gecker after GOP supporters ran ads blasting Gecker for trying to win the seat with $700,000 of outside help from pro-gun-control TV advertisements paid for by a group linked to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“The gun thing — I would have done it differently,” Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax) said. “It’s speculation at this point, but I feel the Gecker seat was one we thought we were going to win. . . . [The gun issue] was one variable that was thrown in at the last minute.”
A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial said Gecker “made a massive mistake” by accepting the ads from Bloomberg. “A campaign focused on guns redounded to Gecker’s despair,” it said.
Other leaders from both sides said the gun issue cut both ways because it helped energize the Democratic base in the district’s liberal neighborhoods in Richmond.
“It certainly increased the intensity for some people who were pro-Second Amendment but also for some people who were pro gun control,” said Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), chairman of the Senate Republican caucus.
He and others also said that hotly contested local races, such as for sheriff and county supervisor, had boosted turnout in Powhatan.
McAuliffe stayed out of the spotlight Wednesday, and his spokesman directed questions about the election to the state Democratic organization. There, press secretary Morgan Finkelstein said it was “too early” and data were “too inconclusive” to say whether the gun issue had helped or hurt the party overall.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that we don’t have to be afraid to talk about guns,” she said.
Gecker’s loss was the key setback in an election that tarnished McAuliffe’s reputation as a political wizard, earned in multiple campaigns with his good friends and allies Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. He gambled big and lost in what was supposed to be his specialty: raising money and overseeing campaigns.
“It does kind of hurt his image as an effective political guy,” Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said.
In addition, McAuliffe’s failure to win Democratic control of the Senate forces him to scale back his ambitions for a legislative and governing legacy.
Virginia governors can’t be reelected, so the GOP’s continued control of both chambers of the General Assembly means McAuliffe has little to no chance of fulfilling his dreams of expanding Medicaid or passing new gun-control laws.
“It damages his legacy, certainly, as governor, because he’s not going to be able to get things he wanted,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report.
Instead, McAuliffe will have to settle for having a place in history mainly as a star salesman for Virginia…