Democrats in red states have started using guns in campaign ads

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  • Democrats in conservative-leaning states and districts are showcasing their use of firearms in campaign ads in 2018.
  • Many of the Democratic candidates using guns in campaign ads are veterans of the US military.
  • While they are breaking with Democratic Party orthodoxy, they are doing so in contested districts where they have to be more flexible on certain issues like gun rights, moderates say.

WASHINGTON – At a time when gun violence is a major topic of discussion in American life and many on the left are pushing for more strict gun control measures than ever before, some Democrats are taking an entirely different approach – using guns in their campaign ads to show they regularly exercise their Second Amendment rights.

Guns in campaign ads have frequently been Republicans’ bread and butter. GOP candidates looking to shore up support among the party’s base routinely use guns to tout their appreciation for the Second Amendment. But in an era during which many national Democrats are drawing hard lines on gun control, the party’s moderates in more hotly-contested districts and states are taking a page out of the GOP playbook.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is no stranger to using firearms in campaign ads. Manchin famously shot a copy of the cap and trade bill during his 2010 campaign.

He reprised the bit on Monday when his re-election campaign released a new video ad in which he shoots a health care law-related lawsuit filed by his Republican challenger, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

And Manchin is not the only Democrat to use guns in campaign ads this election cycle. Manchin’s colleague and current Montana Sen. Jon Tester also displayed his lever-action rifle in an ad earlier this year.

Veterans running for office want to show they can still shoot

A common theme among the Democrats who are using firearms in their campaign ads is that many are veterans of the US military.

Rep. Conor Lamb, who won the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District in March, made clear in his first television advertisement that while he is no longer in the Marine Corps, he “still likes to shoot.”

Lamb’s stance on guns was a major break with Democratic orthodoxy on the Second Amendment. Weeks before the election, Lamb said additional gun laws would not be necessary to prevent mass shootings, but rather stricter enforcement of laws already on the books.

“I believe we have a pretty good law on the books and it says on paper that there are a lot of people who should never get guns in their hands,” he said. “And we know that the background check system is not achieving that result. What I think it’s going to take is people in Congress who are willing to do more than just talk, who are willing to actually work together and stay late, if it requires that, and do some things that would really produce change.”

Lamb’s use of firearms was hardly the last for Democrats looking to unseat Republicans in 2018.

Jared Golden, a 36-year-old Democrats challenging Republican incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine, unveiled an ad on Sunday titled “Bullseye.”

Like Lamb, Golden also touted his service in the Marine Corps and moderate political positions in his video ad while shooting a rifle.

“While Bruce Poliquin hides from his votes to gut Social Security and Medicare, I’m a straight shooter,” Golden said in the ad that also prominently features his work under Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Democrats in more left-leaning districts are doubling down on gun control positions

The use of guns in a handful of campaigns is in direct contrast with what many Democrats are doing across the country.

A series of mass shootings in the US have galvanised activist groups and others to be more open about their support for stricter gun control. Candidates in less rural, more Democratic-leaning districts have gone all-in on gun control as a major policy agenda.

A USA Today study from August found that most of the campaign ads for governor, House, and Senate races since January were pushing stricter gun control, not less. The study’s results showed dramatic increases in the pro-gun control side compared to campaigns in 2016 and 2014.

While there has been a surge of Democrats running in 2018, the candidates in more conservative districts have more complex constituencies, forcing them to balance what positions on which they will draw a hard line.

Democratic operatives are split on the issue. Those who believe in an all-of-the-above approach to getting Democrats into office like it, while it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of operatives closer to the base.

In the case of someone like Manchin, who has produced multiple ads in which he shoots legislation or lawsuits deemed a threat to West Virginians, it makes voters remember the gimmick, while also allowing them to make broader points about other policies.

What it boils down to is that candidates need to be allowed to embrace guns, among other positions that might not be popular with the Democratic base, according to Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, a moderate Democrat in the House.

“Whether it’s Second Amendment or social issues, they’re gonna need room if they’re gonna win in more conservative districts, and if we want to win a majority we’re gonna need to make sure to provide them with that room,” Himes told Business Insider in March shortly after Lamb’s victory.

“He wasn’t afraid to maybe break with some orthodoxy where he thought it would work in his district,” he added. “And I think it’s indicative of the kind of room that our congressional candidates are gonna need in purple or red areas.”

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