WASHINGTON -- A competitive open-seat race for Iowa's third congressional district has become an unlikely center of the gun control debate, with groups seeking to reduce gun violence going up against the National Rifle Association on the airwaves for the first time this cycle.
Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, the political arm of the anti-gun violence group started by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), launched a six-figure ad buy this week targeting Republican candidate David Young. The ad, which hits Young over his opposition to closing a loophole that enables individuals convicted of domestic abuse to buy guns without a background check, will air on both cable and broadcast for at least 10 days, ARS said Tuesday.
The NRA unveiled its own $500,000 ad buy on Wednesday attacking Young's Democratic opponent, former state Sen. Staci Appel, by linking her to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vocal gun control proponent. An NRA spokesman confirmed to The Huffington Post that the ad will run through Election Day on both broadcast and cable.
While both ARS and the NRA have spent heavily on this year's midterm elections, the Young-Appel race is a rare instance in which the two groups are going head to head with dueling TV ads. Both ads follow the playbook each group has used in other states: ARS offers a tough depiction of the dangers of gun violence, while the NRA seeks to paint those who want stricter gun laws as elitists who disregard basic gun rights.
The ARS spot cites Young's opposition to closing the background checks loophole as a man armed with a gun pulls up to a house where a woman is alone inside. It closes with the narrator saying, "To women in Iowa, it's about our lives."
The NRA's ad is set inside an upscale home, which the narrator dubs "an elegant New York City mansion" where "billionaire Michael Bloomberg sleeps safely" while protected by a team of armed guards.
Watch both ads in the video above.
Giffords' group, which she co-founded with husband Mark Kelly, is engaged in several high-profile Senate and House races, backing both Democrats and Republicans who support stricter gun laws. The NRA is not on the air in as many races, but one notable example is the Senate race in Arkansas, where the group is running TV ads endorsing GOP Rep. Tom Cotton. ARS is not devoting resources to defend incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, because he voted against a bill expanding background checks last year.
Asked why it chose to enter the Iowa race, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam once again cited Bloomberg's gun control agenda.
"Staci Appel is the Mike Bloomberg-approved candidate who subscribes to his belief system that self-defense is a privilege only for the powerful and wealthy," Arulanandam told HuffPost. "In contrast, David Young has stated his support for preserving the right to self-defense for every law abiding American. He's also declared his support for commonsense measures that put the burden of law on criminals and not on law abiding Iowans, and that's why the NRA is proud to support him."
ARS executive director Hayley Zachary said the group's support for Appel stems from her willingness "to close the loopholes that allow domestic abusers and stalkers to buy guns without a background check."
"David Young wants to protect those loopholes at all costs," Zachary said in a statement. "When it comes to commonsense policies that help reduce gun violence, David Young continues to put the interests of the Washington gun lobbyists who are backing him ahead of Iowa’s families."
The candidates themselves have not gone on the offensive with respect to guns. Appel's campaign has focused largely on economic issues, such as raising the minimum wage and equal pay, while Young has been critical of Obamacare and government spending.
But neither candidate has shied away from discussing gun control. Appel told the Des Moines Register's editorial board in June that she respects the rights of gun owners, but she does not carry a gun herself and she supports universal background checks.
And during a candidate forum that month, Young, the former chief of staff for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), boasted of helping defeat a Senate bill last year that would have expanded background checks in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
"A little over a year ago, when the Sandy Hook shooting took place, the gun grabbers came out of nowhere. They came out -- Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Obama administration, the liberals -- and they tried to pass a bill on the floor of the U.S. Senate to take away our guns," Young said, while adding that he reached out to fellow chiefs of staff and partnered with the office of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to "beat back the gun-grabbers."
It remains unclear if gun control will serve as a wedge issue in 2014, despite the pledge from anti-gun violence groups to oust lawmakers who refused to support stricter gun laws. Iowa could very well serve as a case study, with guns surfacing as a point of attack not only in the Appel-Young race but also the Senate contest between Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and his Republican opponent, Joni Ernst.
In that race, an early ad from Ernst featured the candidate firing a handgun at a target and asking for "a shot" at Obamacare. More recently, the NRA Political Victory Fund cut an ad linking Braley, who favors expanding background checks, to Bloomberg. ARS has said it plans to help Braley but has not yet hit the airwaves.
A Des Moines Register poll conducted during the gun debate last year found a majority of Iowans favored laws that would place more restrictions on gun purchases. Eighty-eight percent said they supported universal background checks, while 60 percent were on board with banning military-style assault weapons and 59 percent approved limiting ammunition clips to 10 rounds.
Recent polling done on a national level has found that Americans still overwhelmingly favor expanding background checks, although support has fallen for banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Only a few polls have been conducted on the race between Appel and Young, mostly by partisan groups. A nonpartisan poll by Loras College in September found Appel ahead by six percentage points.
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