Gun safety group plans to spend $1M to flip MN Senate

Anti-gun violence activists from Moms Demand Action.
Anti-gun violence activists from Moms Demand Action stand for a group photo in the Capitol rotunda in St. Paul in January 2019. The group plans to spend at least $1 million to try to flip the Minnesota Senate to Democratic control and keep the Minnesota House in the hands of lawmakers who back its positions. 
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

A major gun control group with ties to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday it plans to spend at least $1 million to try to flip the Minnesota Senate to Democratic control and keep the Minnesota House in the hands of lawmakers who back its positions.

The Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund has targeted the state Senate because Republicans hold just a three-vote majority there. But GOP senators have blocked legislation supported by the Democratic-controlled House and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for universal background checks on gun sales and a “red flag law” that would allow courts to temporarily confiscate guns from people judged to be an imminent threat to themselves or others.

The fund and an affiliated group, Moms Demand Action, are focusing on 12 Senate districts now held by Republicans, mostly in the Twin Cities suburbs, Rochester and St. Cloud. They're also targeting five GOP-held House districts while trying to defend a dozen legislative seats held by supporters. Their first ad attacks GOP lawmakers for refusing to consider the two gun control bills.

Charlie Kelly, a national senior advisor for the fund, said $1 million could go “extraordinarily far” in Minnesota because they need only a net gain of two Senate seats. The targeted districts include some that Walz won in 2018. Coupled with fieldwork by 200,000 Moms Demand Action supporters in Minnesota, he said, they could have an “outsized impact” on the races.

“Our boots on the ground were a big part of flipping the House and the governor's mansion (in 2018) and you're going to see that again in 2020,” he predicted. The group also claims credit for helping Democrats take control of the full Virginia Assembly in 2019 on an aggressive gun control platform and the enactment of new laws there earlier this year.

“No one knows the power of suburban moms better than Moms Demand Action,” said Jessica Deweerth, a Minneapolis mother of two and co-leader of the Moms' state chapter. “They're upset and ready to see action.”

Among the targets is Sen. Warren Limmer, of suburban Maple Grove, who has used his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee to bottle up gun safety bills. But Bill Walsh, spokesperson for the Senate Victory Fund, the Minnesota Senate GOP campaign arm, said they’re not worried about Everytown’s plans. He said their candidates were widely outspent in 2016 but still won, and that they’re confident about their chances in November.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks with survivors and activists as gun safety advocates met to discuss midterm election goals and local progress at a volunteer lunch for Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action at W.A. Frost in St. Paul in October 2018.
Courtney Perry for MPR News 2018

Everytown was co-founded and bankrolled by Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor and former Democratic presidential candidate. It plans to spend $60 million on the 2020 elections and backs Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Red-shirted Moms Demand Action members were a familiar sight at the state Capitol before the coronavirus pandemic shut down normal business. But so were supporters of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. Both groups could routinely turn out hundreds of people for rallies or hearings.

“We don't have Michael Bloomberg in order to give us millions of dollars to spend on elections, but we do have a very motivated and grassroots-driven base,” said Rob Doar, political director of the gun rights group. He said his group typically spends “a few hundred thousand dollars” on legislative races.

But Doar downplayed the impact that Everytown and Moms Demand Action could have, saying every political cause claims credit when there's a shift in political power. He said he thinks President Donald Trump will be a much bigger factor in the November elections. Doar said GOP candidates have told him the big issue they kept hearing while door-knocking in 2018 was Trump.

“His style does not relate well in Minnesota,” he said.

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