RICHMOND — Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control group will bankroll a $1.5 million advertising campaign for a Northern Virginia state Senate candidate, in its second big ad buy in the commonwealth in as many days.
Less than two weeks before Election Day, Everytown for Gun Safety announced Thursday that it would spend $1.5 million in TV and online ads for Democrat Jeremy McPike. He is running against Manassas Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) to succeed retiring Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William).
A day earlier, Everytown said it would spend $700,000 on ads for Democrat Dan Gecker, who is battling Republican Glen Sturtevant to represent part of Richmond and the surrounding suburbs in the Senate. That seat is being vacated by retiring Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan).
The ad campaigns, featuring the father of a Roanoke TV journalist shot to death on the air in August, target the two seats considered most up for grabs in the 40-member Senate. Democrats need to pick up one seat to take control of the chamber and give Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) a chance for legislative success for the final two years of his term. The GOP enjoys an overwhelming majority in the House of Delegates.
The size of the ad buys are startling by state Senate standards, particularly in the less expensive Richmond TV market. In the Richmond-area race, the $700,000 ad campaign is on par with the $772,000 that Sturtevant took in through September, and more than half as much as the $1.2 million that Gecker had raised. The $1.5 million that Everytown is plowing into the Northern Virginia race approaches the $1.6 million that Parrish and McPike raised between the two of them.
Asked at a public appearance Thursday outside Richmond if he had spoken with Bloomberg about the ad buys, McAuliffe said no. But he responded coyly when a reporter asked if he’d had any contact with Bloomberg’s “people.”
“Oh, I didn’t say that, but I haven’t talked to Mayor Bloomberg,” McAuliffe said.
Everytown’s big investment in Virginia reflects not only the stakes of the Senate races for McAuliffe but also the belief among gun-control advocates that their cause has begun to gain steam even in gun-friendly states after high-profile mass shootings, such as the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“Even in the NRA’s backyard, political leaders are standing up against gun lobby interests and pledging to put gun safety, and the safety of Virginians, first,” Everytown President John Feinblatt said in a statement. “The political calculus has changed, and this is what Virginians and Americans expect our elected leaders to do to prevent gun violence.”
In announcing the latest ad buy, Everytown touted “decisive victories in 2014 that proved that gun safety is a winning issue at the ballot box.”
The group cited the passage of Initiative 594, Washington state’s background-check ballot measure, and the victory of more than 80 percent of Everytown’s endorsed candidates, including Dannel Malloy (D-Conn.), Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo), three governors whose states had passed background-check legislation since Sandy Hook.
On the campaign trail in 2013 and since taking office, McAuliffe has pushed for what he described as “common-sense” gun restrictions, such as closing a loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid background checks if they purchase from private sellers. His proposals have gone nowhere in Richmond’s Republican- controlled House and Senate.
McAuliffe stepped up his calls to close the “gun-show loophole” after a gunman killed two Roanoke journalists on live TV in August. Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were attacked by a troubledformer colleague, Vester L. Flanagan II.
Gun rights legislators and activists have accused McAuliffe and others of politicizing the tragedy because Flanagan legally bought his gun from a licensed dealer and passed required background checks. And there was nothing in the way of a criminal or mental-health history to prohibit his purchase.
Parker’s father, Andy Parker, appears in both of the TV ads, calling for closure of the gun-show loophole but also acknowledging that “we can’t stop all gun violence.”
In the latest ad, a narrator picks up from there, saying, “But we can’t count on Hal Parrish to act. He gets an A from the gun lobby. They fund his candidacy while fighting against background checks to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Parrish will make us less safe.”
Parker then closes the 30-second spot with: “Politicians’ condolences aren’t enough. It’s time for them to act.”
Luisa Guerra, Parrish’s campaign manager, said he was committed to “promoting a positive agenda, despite the lengths his opponent and his out-of-state, third-party allies will go to discredit his character and his record.”
“Hal Parrish is a veteran of the United States Air Force and former volunteer firefighter who has served the City of Manassas with integrity,” she said. “He has a servant’s heart, and as a father whose son was still a student at Virginia Tech during the tragic shooting, his heart goes out to all those affected by violence.”
Sturtevant campaign manager Matt Brown pushed back against the ad, saying the candidate cares about the “difficult issue” of gun violence as the father of three young children. Brown also noted that Sturtevant’s brother was at Virginia Tech the day of the 2007 massacre, and that his father worked in the Washington Navy Yard and lost colleagues to a shooting there in 2013.
“Glen is committed to ensuring that our federal and Virginia gun laws are strictly enforced and no one ineligible to possess a firearm does so, that our brave men and women in law enforcement have the resources they need to keep us safe, and that we do a better job of identifying and treating mental illness before it leads to tragedy,” Brown said.
Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.