This past week saw a whole host of political upsets in the off-year elections held in various states across the country.
In Virginia, Republicans took control of the Governor’s office for the first time in 12 years en route to a total sweep of executive offices while also retaking control of the House of Delegates. In New Jersey, incumbent Governor Phil Murphy (D.) came dangerously close to losing his reelection bid to lead the deeply blue state. At the same time, a complete political outsider unseated the Democratic president of the state’s senate.
To be clear, gun politics were not the primary focus of these campaigns. Bread and butter issues like education, public safety, and the economy were heavily focused on and dominated the news cycles. However, gun politics did prove to be influential in a few key ways.
In the case of Glenn Youngkin (R.), the businessman turned Governor-elect, guns were not an issue that loomed large in his campaign until they were thrust upon him. He conspicuously did not receive endorsements from the NRA or the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) because he would not fill out their issue surveys.
Seizing upon this, a shadowy liberal PAC funded by the state’s largest power company ran ads in conservative areas of the state claiming that Youngkin was soft on guns in an effort to suppress the pro-gun vote. Their gambit may have backfired, as the uncovering of this led to a major push from the VCDL to turn out the vote among gun owners.
We now have some evidence that gun owners did, in fact, come out in support of Youngkin. A CNN exit poll shows Virginia gun owners voting for Youngkin over McAuliffe at a rate of two-to-one.
In New Jersey, a local truck driver with no political experience was able to unseat the State Senate President, Steve Sweeney (D.), one of the most influential figures in New Jersey politics. Edward Durr (R.), the newly-elected state senator, said his decision to enter politics was motivated by New Jersey’s may-issue—functionally no-issue—concealed carry regime.
“What motivated me more than anything to get into politics was not being able to get a concealed carry gun permit,” Durr told POLITICO.
Gun owners should not expect a major push for pro-gun initiatives in Virginia despite Republicans taking control of the Governor’s mansion and the House of Delegates, though. They’ll likely have to settle for knowing that the ambitious gun control agenda of Terry McAuliffe and other Virginia Democrats have been tabled for at least the next few years. While in New Jersey, the state’s hostility to gun rights is unlikely to abate anytime soon, regardless of which party gains power.
What these elections did prove, however, is the continued relevance of gun politics as a salient issue for voters (and even dark-horse candidates). It helped turn out the vote of an important constituency in Virginia despite the best efforts of some to suppress the pro-gun vote. In New Jersey, gun politics were the motivating factor for one of the most remarkable political upsets in a generation.