Why the NRA Isn't Beating Terry McAuliffe

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 25 2013 2:13 PM

Why the NRA Isn't Beating Terry McAuliffe

179607929
What does he care if he has an F from the NRA?

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In every televised debate against Terry McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli has reminded voters that he's "running against the only statewide candidate with an F rating from the NRA." Every time, McAuliffe manages to dodge the attack. But last night he went further and said he didn't "care" what his NRA rating was. In Politico's wrap of post-debate punditry, the conservatives agree that McAuliffe erred hugely.

Did he? The former DNC chairman is as slippery on guns as he is on ... well, spin the wheel and pick any issue. He once supported a full assault weapons ban, in his old role running the DNC; he also advised Democrats in tough races to punt on guns. But his gun stance, support for "universal background checks," is no less of a loser in Virginia than his NRA rating. One year ago, the NRA handed "F" grades to both President Obama and U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine. Both of them won; Kaine won with unexpected ease.

Advertisement

I'm among those who think the Colorado recall proved that gun control is a trickier issue than Democrats have started to tell themselves, and that the "gun safety" side is as good at fundraising as it is inept at organizing. But the recall was a uniquely low-turnout affair.* There were 9,094 votes to recall Sen. John Morse and 19,355 to recall Sen. Angela Giron. When the two Democrats won, in 2010, there were (respectively) 13,199 and 18,814 votes cast against them.

If this was a presidential year, and the Obama machine was turning out votes, McAuliffe would probably be painting the wall with Cuccinelli. As it is, with ordinary off-year turnout, the Democrat is up by about 9 points. In conditions like that, in 2013, with the liberal population of Northern Virginia constantly growing, McAuliffe can give the NRA a raspberry and win fairly easily.

*I originally said this was "goosed slightly by a judge's decision to require in-person voting instead of mail balloting," but the judge wrote in to remind me that the local press was wrong about that.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.