WASHINGTON Oct 7 The National Rifle Association
is on track for record spending this year on U.S. political
campaigns, including Missouri's U.S. Senate race where a
gun-owning Democrat is waging a tough fight against an incumbent
Republican backed by the gun rights group.
Democrat Jason Kander, an Afghanistan war veteran, is
running just 2.5 percentage points behind Republican U.S.
Senator Roy Blunt in opinion polls in Missouri, despite the
NRA's expenditure of $1.8 million so far trying to protect Blunt
as well as the Republicans' U.S. Senate majority.
Gun violence has transfixed the United States in 2016, from
a massacre at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub to a rash of police
shootings, fueling demands by some Democrats and activists for
tighter gun laws.
Those efforts have been thwarted, as in years past, by the
NRA and its supporters, who say such measures would infringe on
the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution. Congress has not approved major gun-control
legislation since the 1990s.
An Aug. 19 Reuters/Ipsos poll found 41.8 percent of
respondents agreed there should be strong restrictions on
firearms and 22.4 percent supported moderate regulations.
Per-capita firearm ownership in the United States far exceeds
any other country, according to government estimates.
In the Missouri race and other Senate contests in states
such as North Carolina, Nevada, Florida and New Hampshire, the
gun-control battle gripping Washington is playing out on the
The NRA has spent $23.4 million in this election cycle, with
a month to go before voting on Nov. 8, compared with a previous
high of $27 million in the entire 2014 campaign cycle, according
to federal data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to Senate Republicans, the lobbying group is
also backing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Blunt, 66, is a two-decade veteran of Congress. He accuses
Kander, 35, of being soft on gun ownership rights.
Blunt has an "A" rating from the NRA. Kander has an "F,"
which the NRA says he earned by backing expanded background
checks on gun buyers and legislation that failed this year in
Congress to bar people on "terrorism watch lists" from buying
"The difference between Senator Blunt and myself is that I
want to stop criminals and suspected terrorists from having the
same access to guns as the rest of us, which is why I support
background checks," Kander said in a statement to Reuters on
'RESET THE DEBATE'
Kander, Missouri's secretary of state, counterpunched
against Blunt last month with a 30-second TV commercial that has
had more than 1 million views on youtube.com. [here
In the ad, the former U.S. Army captain assembles a
military-style rifle while blindfolded. He says he has supported
gun ownership rights, but adds: "I also believe in background
checks so that terrorists can't get their hands on one of
A fierce debate in Washington over such background checks in
June led to a 25-hour sit-in by Democrats on the floor of the
House of Representatives.
"The reaction to that ad has reset the debate" in the
Missouri Senate race, said Tim Daly, managing director of guns
and crime policy for the liberal Center For American Progress, a
think tank in Washington.
Kander's polling numbers were already rising when the Sept.
15 ad was first broadcast. But Daly said Kander planted fresh
doubts over the NRA position on background checks.
Blunt and his campaign spokesmen were not available for
The NRA is Blunt's No. 2 financial backer in the Missouri
race, surpassed only by a group closely associated with U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that backs Republicans.
SENATE MAJORITY AT STAKE
Like the Blunt-Kander battle, other key 2016 Senate races
feature intense debate over guns as Republicans work to defend
their control of the Senate.
In North Carolina, the NRA has pumped in $2.8 million to
support threatened incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr.
The first televised debate in New Hampshire this week
between Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and her Democratic
challenger, Governor Maggie Hassan, began with a moderator
asking how they could reduce gun violence without infringing on
Ayotte has come under attack from Americans for Responsible
Solutions for her opposition to tough gun background checks. The
group works to reduce U.S. gun violence in the United States.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)