“Have you seen the billboards?” they asked.
“I went out and looked, and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The billboards said I was just like Obama, and where I’m from, that’s deadly.”
The billboard ads were followed by radio spots, newspaper ads and fliers mailed to homes in her district: “Maggart and Obama: We Can’t Trust Either With Our Rights.”
On YouTube, Chris Cox, chief of lobbying for the NRA, went after Maggart.
“We’ve put up ads and billboards comparing Debra Maggart to Barack Obama,” Cox said. “That’s because, while both say they support our Second Amendment rights, they both worked against our freedoms behind closed doors.”
Maggart estimated that the NRA and other gun groups spent $155,000 on the race. She said all she could do was watch her polling numbers fall. She ended up losing the Republican primary by 16 percentage points to a candidate handpicked by the NRA, Courtney Rogers, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had no political experience.
“They will lie about you. They will use intimidation tactics. They will use bullying tactics, and because of that, people are afraid,” Maggart said.
“Why wouldn’t you be afraid?’”
Ayotte in the middle
After watching the NRA’s successes on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the nation, gun-control groups are starting to employ some of the same tactics.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than in New Hampshire, where Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte finds herself caught between two powerful forces: the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Ayotte was the only senator from a Northeastern state to side with the NRA.
Since the vote, the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group, have been running radio spots in New Hampshire that praise Ayotte for her stance.
“Kelly Ayotte is not just a senator, she’s also a mom who cares about protecting our kids,” the announcer says. “Kelly had the courage to oppose misguided gun-control laws that would not have prevented Sandy Hook.”
Gun-control groups are hitting back. The mayors group, organized by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), has tapped a deep reservoir of phone and e-mail lists to mobilize opposition to Ayotte. Protesters have trailed Ayotte to events in New Hampshire, demanding that she explain her vote.
On April 30, the daughter of the slain Sandy Hook principal confronted Ayotte at a crowded town hall meeting in Warren, N.H.
The scene was reminiscent of the way the NRA had taken over town hall meetings.
“A fair amount of what we’re doing in New Hampshire is right out of the NRA playbook,” said Arkadi Gerney, who was a special adviser to the mayors group before joining the Center for American Progress as a senior fellow. He and others are helping to coordinate the anti-Ayotte campaign in New Hampshire.