House candidate and country-folk singer Rob Quist (D) prepares to take aim in his campaign ad. (YouTube)

Democrats are increasingly bullish on their chances in Montana’s May 25 special election, in which country-folk singer Rob Quist is competing for the state’s sole seat in the House of Representatives. One problem: In a January interview, Quist floated the idea of legislation to create a registry for automatic weapons.

Politically, it didn’t matter that he left handguns and rifles out of the idea, or that some heavy weapons already must be registered. Republicans, always looking for a kill shot, began portraying Quist as a gun grabber. An ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee threw images of hunting rifles on-screen and said Quist would create a “gun registry,” leaving the impression that he’d take away every gun he could.

Quist’s response comes in the surprisingly robust tradition of ads that feature candidates shooting guns. In “Defend,” Quist sets up a shot at a TV screen that’s playing the ad in question.

“For generations, this old rifle has protected my family’s ranch,” said Quist. “I won’t stand by while a millionaire from New Jersey tries to attack my Montana values.”

The “millionaire” is Greg Gianforte, Quist’s Republican opponent, who settled in Bozeman 24 years ago but who Democrats have portrayed as an out-of-touch interloper. (This was effective in 2016, when Gianforte lost a bid for governor.) And the ad itself resembles “Dead Aim,” a spot Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) ran in 2010 to blunt Republican attempts to tie him to the Obama administration.

A key difference between those spots, though, is the salience of the gun issue. In 2010, as Manchin pointed out, he’d won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. But after the 2012 Newtown massacre, Democrats — who’d been reluctantly ready to punt on gun bills — pushed for new background-check legislation. The NRA became even more of a partisan political player, spending nearly all of its political ad money on behalf of Republicans. In 2016, it endorsed Gianforte for governor, and Democrats expect it to go to the airwaves to attack Quist.

And on Thursday, Gianforte set them up for it, with an ad demonstrating his opposition to a gun registry — by shooting a screen with a gun.