NRA spends thousands on last-minute push for Pennsylvania congressional candidate

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The NRA spent at least $7,868 in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone ahead of Tuesday’s special election in Pennsylvania, according to FEC filings reported this week by ABC News.

The expenditures mark the first time the NRA has directed funding to a federal political campaign since a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, which left 17 people dead.

According to ABC News, $7,532 of that money was spent on “mailings scheduled to be distributed in the district on Monday,” and the remainder, $336, was spent on phone banking. The NRA has not said what was included in the mailers or where they were sent.

ABC noted that the influential lobbying group did formally endorse Saccone back in January, donating $2,450 to his campaign.

“Rick Saccone is a proven supporter of the Second Amendment,” NRA political lobbying executive Chris Cox said in a statement at the time. “As a State Representative, Rick was a leader in the effort to expand law-abiding citizens’ right to self-protection while consistently opposing attempts to ban lawfully owned firearms, magazines and ammunition. The NRA is honored to endorse Rick Saccone…[and] encourages all Pennsylvania gun-owners, hunters and sportsmen to vote for Rick Saccone in the March 13, 2018 Special Election.

The candidate has an A+ rating from the NRA.

On Tuesday, Saccone will face off with rival Connor Lamb, a pro-choice Democrat who has been supportive of President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and believes that no new gun legislation is necessary, in contrast to other left-leaning politicians. Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and a Marine, has so far resonated with blue-collar Democrats in Pennsylvania’s 18th district and poses a serious threat to Saccone, who has struggled in an area Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania’s 18th district, greets supporters after speaking at a campaign rally. CREDIT: Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“This district has voted overwhelmingly Republican in recent elections, but a large number of these voters have blue-collar Democratic roots,” Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said on Monday, referring to a recent poll that showed Lamb ahead by six points. “Lamb seems to have connected with them.”

The NRA’s support for Saccone comes at a critical time: With most polls showing a tight race and Saccone a notably weak fundraiser — he’s raised just over $1 million since January, while Lamb has raised more than $3.6 million — the outside spending boosted his profile ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Following last month’s shooting in Parkland, both Saccone and the NRA alike attempted to shift focus from guns to “failings” on the part of law enforcement, which the NRA has blamed for dropping the ball, despite being warned of the shooter’s troubling behavior months earlier.

Amid impassioned calls from survivors and gun control advocates to tighten restrictions on assault-style weapons following the attack, the NRA doubled down, honing in on flaws in the “mental health system” and the country’s “inability” to secure school grounds.

“Rather than address our broken mental health system, our inability to provide proper school security, or numerous failings by law enforcement and others to identify a clearly dangerous individual, all solutions that NRA supports, their solution is simple: blame the NRA, its members, and America’s 120 million law-abiding gun owners,” spokespersons wrote in a statement a few weeks after the shooting.

For his part, Saccone issued a statement in response to Parkland that was devoid of any mention about guns — and repeated many of the NRA’s talking points.

“This is every parent’s worst nightmare and I can’t imagine the loss they’re going to have to live with for the rest of their lives,” he said in a statement. “We must come together as a nation to have a serious discussion about how to address these senseless acts of violence. Schools should be a safe place where we send our kids to learn without fear.”

Lamb issued his own statement last month in the wake of the shooting, arguing that stricter enforcement of current policies would prevent further tragedy but stopping short of calling for new legislation.

“I believe we have a pretty good law on the books and it says on paper that there are a lot of people who should never get guns in their hands,” he said at a campaign event. “…What I think it’s going to take is people in Congress who are willing to do more than just talk, who are willing to actually work together and stay late, if it requires that, and do some things that would really produce change.”