Two progressive groups that have been spending big to elect Democrat Ralph Northam as Virginia’s next governor announced Monday they would ramp up their spending with just two weeks until Election Day.
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters’ political arm is pouring an aditional $1.1 million to support Democratic candidates, bringing its total spending this year to more than $3 million.
Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the political arm of one of the nation’s largest gun control groups, is donating an additional $400,000 to Northam, $300,000 to Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring’s re-election bid and $100,000 to Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax.
That comes on top of an earlier $1 million dollar commitment from the organization bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Gun control was thrust into the spotlight of the Virginia governor’s race after a gunman killed at least 58 during a country music festival in Las Vegas earlier this month.
Northam, the state's lieutenant governor, reiterated his call to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He also wants universal background checks and to restore Virginia's one-gun-a-month purchase limits, which Republicans had overturned.
Northam's Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, signaled he was open to regulating 'bump stocks' — the device used to accelerate gunfire in the Las Vegas shooting. after the idea got backing from the National Rifle Association. But otherwise, Gillespie opposes new restrictions on gun ownership.
Everytown also announced it would redirect $90,000 originally meant for mailers to radio ads targeting black voters. The ad features Lucy McBath, an African American staffer for Everytown whose son was fatally shot in a Florida gas station parking lot after an argument involving loud music.
It's the latest sign of the importance to Democrats of African Americans, who make up roughly a fifth of the Virginia electorate.
Northam's campaign brought former President Barack Obama to rally a heavily black crowd of 7,500 in Richmond on Thursday.
“African-American turnout will be crucial on Nov. 7 -- and we want to make sure black voters know what the stakes are in this race,” said Brynne Craig, an Everytown strategist. “Ed Gillespie walks in lock step with the NRA and his policies will make black communities less safe in the Commonwealth.”
Everytown also organizes canvassers and phonebanking for Virginia Democrats through its affiliated group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Among other things, the group prioritizes expanding background checks to purchase firearms and oppose “constitutional carry”, or the right to carry concealed guns without a permit.
Herring faces Republican John Adams, who takes a broad view of gun rights.
On the other side of the gun debate, the National Rifle Association is spending at least $760,000 on campaign commercials supporting Gillespie, according to records compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters PAC is giving an additional $392,000 directly to Northam’s campaign, spending an additional $356,000 on its field operations and canvassing program and doubling its $250,000 digital advertising efforts. The group is also sending $100,000 to Democratic House of Delegate candidates.
“We simply can’t afford to give up the progress we’ve made expanding clean energy and safeguarding our water and land for future generations,” said Michael Town, executive director of the group.
The organization supports Northam despite his refusal to oppose two natural gas pipeline projects opposed by environmentalists. Northam says he would support the pipelines if they meet environmental and safety standards, while Gillespie says they are necessary to boost Virginia’s economy.
League officials say Northam is still the better alternative on environmental issues, despite their disagreement on pipelines.
Also on Monday, the Voter Participation Center said it would spend $1 million on mailers to turn-out key Democratic constituencies in the governor’s race: Unmarried women, people of color and young voters.
Virginia does not place limits on campaign contributions, allowing outside groups to spend big and directly coordinate with candidates.