With the U.S. Senate majority at stake, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is pumping record amounts of money into races across the country, according to Reuters on Friday.
The news agency reports that the NRA "is on track for record spending this year on U.S. political campaigns," having already spent $23.4 million in this election cycle compared with a previous high of $27 million in the entire 2014 campaign cycle. In addition to supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the lobby group is backing GOP candidates in states including Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, and New Hampshire.
Reuters points to Missouri—where incumbent Roy Blunt is fending off a challenge from gun-owning Democrat Jason Kander, a 35-year-old Afghanistan veteran—as one of several states where "the gun-control battle gripping Washington is playing out on the campaign trail."
Indeed, The Hill reported Friday that the NRA "has so far spent $1.2 million in Missouri and sees the race as pivotal to keeping the Republican majority in the Senate and a check on any liberal judge that [Hillary] Clinton might nominate to the Supreme Court."
In North Carolina, the NRA has spent a whopping $2.8 million to support threatened incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr; recent reporting from The Trace delved into the group's financial backing for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
As Newsweek's Emily Cadei put it bluntly on Thursday: "If Republicans maintain control of the Senate this November, they'll have to be sure to thank the gun lobby."
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"[A]s Senate races heated up in September, the NRA poured $8.5 million into eight of the most competitive Senate races—more than any other outside group besides the two major political parties and their aligned super PACs," Cadei wrote. "The gun group even outspent the network of advocacy organizations funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. It helped give Senate Republicans a big edge over Democrats last month in terms of the outside cash flowing into their races. Super PACs and party committees supporting Republican Senate candidates spent roughly $69 million in September; their Democratic counterparts spent about $47 million."
The heavy spending "demonstrates that even as political support for gun control policies has grown, the forces working against gun regulations continue to be formidable," Cadei continued. "If the polls hold true and Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November, she has promised aggressive measures to curb gun violence."
And "[y]ou can bet that if Senate Republicans find themselves facing off against Clinton next year on gun control," she concluded, "the group will be reminding them of all that work."
Meanwhile, four states will see gun-control ballot questions on November 8.
"It's a political sea change," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told USA Today of the growing attention to the issue. For years, "both Democrats and Republicans thought it was the third rail of American politics. It was very hard for us to engage people on this issue, certainly in Washington."
"In many ways," he said, "that gave rise to our ballot strategy because while the NRA could have politicians in their pockets, they couldn't really have the people in their pockets."