Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who launched a gun-control group after surviving an assassination attempt, will campaign for Virginia Democrats running for state House and Senate this week. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
RICHMOND — Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will campaign in Virginia two days this week for state House and Senate candidates who support stricter gun laws, an issue that gained momentum in the state after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
The Arizona Democrat, who launched a gun-control group after surviving an assassination attempt in 2011, will appear in Northern Virginia on Friday and in Virginia Beach on Saturday alongside some of the 40 Democrats the group is endorsing.
The Virginia Beach event will also include people who survived or lost loved ones in a May 31 mass shooting at the city’s municipal complex, where 12 people died along with the gunman.
Giffords endorsed two Northern Virginia Democrats and held a joint fundraiser for them in McLean in March. Her return signals the national interest in Virginia’s off-year elections as a potential bellwether for 2020, and the special salience of the gun-control issue in a state that has recently endured a mass shooting, said Joanna Belanger, political director for the Giffords group.
“Everybody certainly always has their pulse on Virginia’s electoral work since it’s the off year, but I think post-Virginia Beach and post-that special [legislative] session, we definitely knew the work we did here would have more meaning,” Belanger said in an interview Friday.
She was referring to a special General Assembly session on gun control that Gov. Ralph Northam (D) convened in July in response to the Virginia Beach shooting. Republican leaders adjourned the session after 90 minutes without taking up a single bill, sending all of the proposed legislation to the state Crime Commission to study for a report to be issued after the November elections.
All 100 seats in the House and all 40 in the Senate are on the ballot this year. Virginia is one of just four states with legislative elections in 2019, and the only one where control of the chambers is considered up for grabs. Republicans are defending paper-thin majorities in both the House (51-48) and the Senate (20-19), with one vacancy in each chamber.
Giffords appeared in McLean in March at a joint fundraiser for Democrat Dan Helmer, who is trying to unseat Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), and Del. John Bell (D-Loudoun), who faces Republican Geary Higgins in the race to fill retiring Republican Sen. Richard H. Black’s Loudoun County seat.
Both sides of the gun issue are gearing up for a fight. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group launched by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has given $233,500 to Virginia candidates so far this year. The National Rifle Association has contributed $215,000 to Republicans since January, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.