“We endorsed well over 300 people in the country and won most of those races,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, a political action committee formed by Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman wounded in a shooting.
“We were across the map,” he said. “It wasn’t a niche local issue. We were on the offensive in blue, red and purple states.”
Spending to support candidates backing tougher gun control surged this year, even as campaign spending by the NRA declined. Giffords PAC spent nearly $5 million. Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pledged $30 million for this year’s elections and continued to put new money into competitive races in the final days.
“It’s clear that gun issues are no longer abstract,” said Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt. “Mass shooting after mass shooting has left an indelible mark on Americans, and this explains the success of our candidates in the House.”
Sixty-one percent of voters who responded to VoteCast, a survey of the electorate conducted by The Associated Press, said they support stricter gun laws, compared with 8 percent who said they should be loosened. Eighty-six percent of those supporting Democratic candidates backed stricter gun laws, along with 34 percent of those who supported Republicans.
“I do think there’s new energy” on gun issues, even before the California assault late Wednesday night and an Oct. 27 shooting that killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, said Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Wexton, Spanberger and Luria all made gun violence a central issue in their campaigns — disproving the notion that gun control is a “third rail” of politics that Democrats should not talk about, Brown said.
“Two years ago, you couldn’t run on gun safety in the west and southwest,” said Feinblatt. “This year, people ran on gun safety and won. All the indication from public polling and our polling suggests that the NRA had a bad year. Their grades used to be king maker. Not anymore.”
McBath, an African-American, became a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety after her son was slain at a Florida gas station by a white man angry over the loud music the black teenager and his friends had been playing in their car. McBath said her victory over Republican Rep. Karen Handel sent a strong message to the country.
“Absolutely nothing — no politician & no special interest — is more powerful than a mother on a mission,” she said in a tweet.
While the election provided gun control advocates with additional momentum, enacting controls on weapons or ammunition will remain an uphill battle with a GOP-controlled Senate. Republicans are projected to expand their Senate majority and Trump remains a favored ally of the NRA.
Still, House Democrats are already promising to take action on gun control following a recent string of mass shootings, including a late-night assault at a California bar that killed 12 people. Those measures including expanded background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons are likely to reach the House floor when Democrats retake control after eight years of Republican rule.
“The American people deserve real action to end the daily epidemic of gun violence that is stealing the lives of our children on campuses, in places of worship and on our streets,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader who is running for a second stint as House speaker.
Pelosi vowed to push for a range of actions to stem gun violence, including restrictions on high-capacity magazines and a measure allowing temporary removal of guns from people deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.
The political calculus on guns is changing, said Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, whose Florida district includes the Parkland high school where 17 people were killed in February. “We saw it start on Tuesday and we’re going to see it accelerate in January,” he said.
(The Associated Press contributed.)