Democrats who at one time enjoyed the National Rifle Association's "A" ratings are now starting to shift their positions, reflecting voters who almost all support more strict gun laws and while fighting against their more pro-gun control challengers.
"It's now a wedge issue, not just between Democrats and Republicans, but between Democrats, over who can be the strongest on this issue," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told Politico.
Her organization is part of an advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, which is backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Democrats at one time allowed more moderate members to lean more toward the pro-gun side of the debate, especially in swing districts where their stances kept them close to the NRA and allowed them to win elections.
For example, in Ohio, former Gov. Ted Strickland, who once enjoyed NRA support, is being fought for the Ohio Senate primary by Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld campaign, who is pushing hard on Strickland's former embrace of guns.
The former governor, who also served in the U.S. House of Representatives, "has now experienced an election-year conversion on the subject of guns," Dale Butland, Sittenfeld's campaign spokesman, told Politico.
The NRA endorsed Strickland for governor over Republican John Kasich in 2010, but he says his position on guns changed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012, and spoke in favor of the universal background check bill after that.
With Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton publicly embracing gun control from her campaign speeches, though, many Democrats are shifting their views, and according to the latest CBS/New York Times poll, 76 percent of Democrats now support gun control.
Another House candidate, John Oceguera, had built up his pro-gun credentials in 2012, but now says "enough is enough" after Congress voted down two gun control measures after the San Bernardino attacks. After that, he gave up his NRA membership, reports Politico.
Another candidate, Florida state Sen. Darren Soto, earned an "A" rating from the NRA in 2012, and his votes included one about leaving guns in workplace parking lots, which Disney and other major Florida companies opposed.
But now an opponent, Alan Grayson aide Susannah Randolph, accused Soto of promising to "vote like a strong Democrat," and then changing when he got into office.
Soto's campaign, though, said that he now supports background check expansions and banning guns from being sold to people on the national "no-fly" list, and he said in a statement that he stands for "common sense gun reform."
Democratic consultant Martha McKenna compared the opinion shift to what happened with gay marriage.
"I think candidates who carry 'A' ratings from the NRA into a race, but now have a more middle-of-the-road opinion on guns, are representative of where our country is," McKenna said.
"The country is changing . . . Candidates have an opportunity to do that as well, if they handle it the right way."
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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