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Five Races in Which the Gun Debate Matters

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The murder of more than two dozen people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has catapulted the gun control issue back into the spotlight, leaving some members especially vulnerable in the upcoming election cycle.

Even before Sandy Hook, gun control was an issue in the race to replace former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. Gun violence has been an epidemic in this Chicago district for years, and gun control has become a dominant issue of the race.

The 2nd District includes some rural areas. But the urban population drives the district’s politics. Former state Rep. Robin Kelly and Alderman Anthony Beale have sought to paint themselves as the candidate most in favor of gun control in the Democratic primary that will determine Jackson’s successor.

“Unlike my opponents Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson, who both received support from the NRA, I got an F rating and frankly, I could not be more proud,” Kelly wrote in a statement last week.

Halvorson, a former congresswoman, represented a more conservative district in one term in Congress and is vulnerable on this front. Hutchinson, a state senator, has a similarly conservative record on gun rights. Like most special elections, primary turnout is expected to be low. Anything can happen, but Kelly and Beale are betting on gun control advocacy to pull her through.

Massachusetts Senate (Special Election)

Former Sen. Scott P. Brown is not yet even a candidate to succeed Democratic Sen. John Kerry, and Democrats are already seeking to tie him to the NRA.

“If Scott Brown decides to run, then he is going to have a difficult time explaining to Massachusetts voters why the gun lobby donated more to him than any other Senator in the country,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter wrote in an email, citing an analysis on the website GoLocalWorcester.com. National Democrats have widely circulated numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics that show Brown was the top Senate recipient of money from gun rights groups. He received $30,000 from those groups in 2012.

Painting Brown as a hard-line anti-gun-control crusader could be a hard sell, though, especially because in 2012 he had Bloomberg’s backing.

“As a state legislator in Massachusetts I supported an assault- weapons ban, thinking other states would follow suit. But unfortunately, they have not, and innocent people are being killed. As a result, I support a federal assault-weapons ban, perhaps like the legislation we have in Massachusetts,” he said to the Springfield Republican right after the Connecticut shootings.

As The Hill reported Jan. 18, Brown’s reversal on an assault weapons ban could jeopardize his NRA endorsement. It would mean the loss of tens of thousands of dollars of support. But losing the NRA’s endorsement could help Brown politically if he runs in the special.

New Jersey Senate

As long as Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg seeks re-election, one can expect gun rights to be central to this race.

Lautenberg is one of the Senate’s top gun control advocates — talking about it for years when most Democrats didn’t want to touch it — and the issue has been central to his career.

Lautenberg can be expected to attack Newark Mayor Cory Booker from the left on the issue in a Democratic primary, and he has already used Twitter to ding Booker. In addition, an unnamed Lautenberg aide complained to Buzzfeed last week that Booker was praising Lautenberg’s gun control legislation without due credit.

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