Gun Control Groups Claim They Helped Beat Cuccinelli, But Did They?

Guns just a piece of why McAuliffe won in Virginia.

Gun control groups claimed a victory when Terry McAuliffe, whose voting record on gun laws earned him an "F" rating from the NRA, only won the Virginia gubernatorial election by only slightly more than 2 percent.

Gun control groups claimed a victory when Terry McAuliffe, whose voting record on gun laws earned him an "F" rating from the NRA, only won the Virginia gubernatorial election by only slightly more than 2 percent.

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Gun control groups say it's not often a guy who proudly boasts an "F" National Rifle Association rating wins statewide office in Virginia, the backyard of the NRA.

That is why when Terry McAuliffe won the gubernatorial race by more than two percentage points Tuesday, gun control advocates jumped at the opportunity to claim a victory.

[READ: McAullife Beats Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia Governor’s Race]

On the campaign trail, Virginia Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe explicitly supported closing the so-called gun show loophole. He vowed to expand background checks during a publicly-aired debate at Virginia Tech, the site of a deadly gun massacre. Meanwhile, his opponent Ken Cuccinelli advertised his "A" rating as a badge of honor.

"Its a very significant turning point in the commonwealth of Virginia," says Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who credits the gun issue for securing his own victory in 2010. He adds "in a very highly contested, highly divided state the Democrat, espousing reasonable gun control, prevailed."

Groups like Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC Independence USA are revelling in their win after dropping $2 million in the race. They aren't the only ones. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun safety organization founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband Mark Kelly, are treating McAuliffe's victory as a point of no return, boasting during a conference call Wednesday that "gun extremism is not a winning message in this country anymore."

"[McAuliffe] was targeted in the NRA, and he won. If you can do that in Virginia, you can do that anywhere," said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for Independence USA.

[PHOTOS: McAuliffe, Christie, De Blasio Win 2013 Elections]

But Virginia's race wasn't all about guns. While gun control advocates and gun rights groups spent a combined $4 million on the gubernatorial matchup, much of the money was spent just weeks before Election Day and at a time when McAuliffe already had a strong leg up in the polls. The NRA estimates it spent upwards of $1 million on the race. Candidates focused on the economy, health care and women's rights, instead. Conversations about gun control were few and far between and didn't surface until late into the race.

McAuliffe's victory as a NRA-renegade isn't unprecedented in the state. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., for example, won his election despite an "F" NRA rating in 2012.

The National Rifle Association's spokesman Andrew Arulanandam argues that gun control advocates in the race actually damaged McAuliffe's brand, not strengthened it.

"The political reality is that Bloomberg came in a week before the election and spent $2 million on TV ads exclusively in the D.C. media market and in that one week, a double digit lead was whittled down to three points," Arulanandam says.

[ALSO: McAuliffe Widens Lead, Buoyed by Women Voters]

The NRA is no stranger to election victories. Just two months ago, in September, gun rights groups including the NRA, helped recall two Colorado state lawmakers who had supported stricter gun laws in the state.

"The truth is that Mayor Bloomberg was political poison in Colorado and he is political poison in Virginia," Arulanandam says.

 

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