Gabrielle Giffords’ group: We’ll push gun debate in 2016

Gabrielle Giffords’ group: We’ll push gun debate in 2016

Politico

By Katie Glueck

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ anti-gun violence super PAC spent $10.6 million in the midterms and won barely won half of its contests — but the group is already preparing for 2016 and plans to get involved in the GOP presidential primaries.

The group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, faces a steep task: Gun control has hardly registered as an issue on the campaign trail, there’s strident opposition to possible restrictions from the Republican base, and the pro-gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, remains formidable.

But ARS is convinced it can change the narrative, and it points to its $250,000 investment in data and analytics in 2014 as a major advantage for next cycle. The group has already built a substantial voter file, including in the critical presidential states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Our hope is that the major parties’ nominees are good, if you will, if not perfect. … That some of the work we’ve done is helpful in paving a way for these candidates to talk about these issues,” Pia Carusone, a senior adviser to ARS, said in an exclusive post-election interview with POLITICO that detailed the group’s spending strategy and vision.

Giffords launched ARS in 2013, two years after she was shot in the head when a gunman attacked her and others in her Arizona district. The group stresses that it’s bipartisan – it supported two Republicans and 16 Democrats this cycle – and while it backs measures such as expanded background checks, it also highlights the former Democratic congresswoman’s pride in being a gun owner.

In 2014, ARS counts as wins nine of the 18 congressional and gubernatorial races in which it invested, though the extent of those investments varied widely. But of the competitive Senate races in which ARS spent significantly — North Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire — it won only the Granite State (Louisiana is headed to a runoff, which Democrats look likely to lose). However, its preferred candidates won extremely close gubernatorial races in Colorado and Connecticut, both states scarred by recent mass shootings.

The group also competed in several House races, winning one competitive seat in New Hampshire and backing a safe Republican in Pennsylvania. And officials counted a successful ballot measure in Washington state that enacts tougher background checks as a big win.

But in a sign of the tough landscape facing ARS, the verdict is still out in the race for Giffords’ old post in Arizona’s Second District — perhaps the group’s highest priority.

There, ARS invested $2.3 million — its biggest expenditure in any race — and ran controversial, highly emotional ads. Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, a former Giffords staffer who was also wounded in the Arizona shooting in 2011, faces a recount against Republican candidate Martha McSally.

ARS was one of a constellation of anti-gun violence groups that played in the midterms. Others included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety,which spent about $12 million this cycle in efforts largely concentrated at the state level, including the Washington ballot initiative, according to the group.

Giffords’ outfit hired Michael Simon of HaystaqDNA to spearhead its data and modeling efforts. Simon played a central role in the vaunted analytics shop of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Simon said ARS officials indicated they didn’t just want their candidates to win — they wanted them to win as champions of tighter gun restrictions.

“If you say, ‘Yeah, you can be good on our issue, but you don’t have to talk about it in an election’ then you’ll never create an ecosystem, never create a counterweight” to groups like the NRA, he said. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA spent three times as much as ARS on the midterms this cycle, with its outside spending topping $30 million.

At the same time, ARS officials were keenly aware that any message perceived as anti-gun could be damaging in close contests if disseminated to the wrong voters. So it worked with groups such as HaystaqDNA and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to identify voting blocs that might be receptive before sending out mail and airing targeted television pitches.

An internal memo shared with POLITICO highlighted how the group drilled down on the demographics.

“According to polling, a gun violence prevention message was effective with African Americans who voted in 2012 but not 2010,” read the Louisiana section. “Based on the research, we targeted African American drop-off women and African American drop-off voters residing in the New Orleans media market.”

Carusone said there’s a perception that gun restrictions are so sensitive that even many Democrats simply avoid the subject. It’s a mentality the group wants to change, she said, noting that, in specific races with the right conditions, the group’s data suggest talking about such measures can be smart politics.

“Operatives, consultants, say, ‘If you talk guns, you lose.’ … It’s people in Democratic politics, people have this belief,” she said.

Giffords herself appeared in one campaign ad on behalf of the super PAC (the group also has a 501(c)(4) arm), a spot that ran in Arizona’s 2nd District. Carusone said the former House member was intimately involved, down to rejecting a piece of mail if it didn’t resonate with her, and that she played a big role in fundraising.

Carusone acknowledged ARS cares deeply about the Arizona race, but said that regardless of the outcome there, the statewide wins in Colorado, Connecticut and Washington were the three biggest victories.

As for 2016, aside from the GOP presidential primary, the group will be heavily involved on the congressional front.

Carusone said it was too early to say whether ARS would participate in Senate primaries. But three of four Republicans who backed the Senate’s failed Manchin-Toomey bill to expand background checks will be up for reelection next cycle. Those three — Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mark Kirk of Illinois — could all draw primary challengers from the right.

The fourth Republican to back that legislation, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, was up for reelection this year and won handily. ARS backed her with $272,000.

Gabby Giffords’ Statement on Sen. Mark Warner’s Re-Election

November 7, 2014 - Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, issued the following statement on Senator Mark Warner’s re-election to the United States Senate:

“I congratulate Mark Warner on his reelection to the United States Senate. Virginians have said that they want to continue to have a steady, bipartisan, pragmatic voice for common sense in the United States Senate. In tight elections in Virginia last year and this year, gun safety voters helped get their candidates over the finish line. We are pleased to have contributed to another statewide victory for responsible gun ownership in the state of Virginia.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF ARS PAC’S VOTER CONTACT PROGRAM IN VIRGINIA

Radio Advertisement: ARS PAC ran a campaign of radio advertising to encourage voters to turn out and support Senator Warner.

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THE 2014 MIDTERMS: VICTORIES FOR GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION

November 6, 2014Hidden beneath the growing narrative of a national “wave,” the 2014 midterms were a good night for gun violence prevention policies and the candidates who favor them. In the one election where expanded background checks were on the ballot, they won resoundingly, and both Republicans and Democrats around the country who support commonsense solutions to gun violence like background checks were re-elected.

“The 2014 elections have delivered some great victories for responsible gun ownership around the country. None of those victories is greater than what we saw in Washington State last night, where the people of the Evergreen State showed that when Americans are given the chance to vote to close the loopholes that let guns fall into the wrong hands, common sense wins out,” said Capt. Mark Kelly, the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions. “In addition to the success in Washington State, leaders from both parties from Colorado to Maine to Connecticut who support commonsens solutions to gun violence were rehired for the job. More of our Champions won than lost. We feel pretty good about that.”

In its first election cycle, Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC (ARS PAC) ran a comprehensive political program in 19 races across the country supporting its “Champions for Common Sense.” Expenditures included elections for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governors, as well as – critically – passage of Initiative 594, Washington State’s referendum enacting a new expanded background checks law. Our programs included television advertising, targeted digital campaigns, and direct mail programs that used gun violence prevention messages to persuade and motivate potential voters to support ARS PAC’s Champions.

ARS PAC Supports a Victory for Background Checks in Washington State – And a Defeat for the Gun Lobby

In the one election where background checks were explicitly on the ballot, they won resoundingly. Initiative I-594, which will close loopholes in Washington State’s background check system, was overwhelmingly approved, while the gun lobby’s I-591 lost badly. To support I-594 and help defeat I-591, ARS PAC executed a highly targeted direct mail campaign to clarify the differences between Initiatives 594 and 591 to 245,000 households (view the mail pieces here). To determine which households should receive these mail pieces, ARS PAC performed a randomized controlled experiment in which a random sample of likely voters were divided into two groups: one of the groups was sent four pieces of mail, and the other group received no mail and served as a control. Voters in both groups were surveyed by phone to determine their views on the initiatives. Based on survey responses combined with voter-registration and consumer data, every voter in the state received scores indicating how likely the mail would be to change their mind, and by how much.

ARS PAC and its partners then sent mail only to likely voters in 245,000 households whose support of 594 was expected to increase, and whose support of 591 was expected to decrease. Among the group of voters surveyed, ARS PAC’s mail pieces increased voter support of I-594 by 8.2 percentage points, and decreased their support of 591 by 5.4 percentage points among the individuals modeled as mail-receptive. If these rates from the experimental group held in the population at large, ARS PAC’s mail program in Washington would have changed the minds of nearly 20,000 likely voters on initiative 594, and nearly 13,000 on initiative 591.

ARS PAC’s “Champions for Common Sense” Win

Along with the background checks victory in Washington State, a majority of ARS PAC’s “Champions for Commonsense” – Democrats and Republicans – won in some of the nation’s tightest races.

Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy: ARS PAC supported Governor Dan Malloy’s re-election through targeted TV advertising and a strategic four-piece direct mail campaign. ARS PAC aired a 30-second TV advertisement in Fairfield County in the final 2.5 weeks of the campaign highlighting defeated candidate Tom Foley’s opposition to laws that help prevent gun violence. To supplement its TV advertisement, ARS PAC ran a four-piece direct mail campaign highlighting Foley’s out-of-step positions and encouraging voters in Fairfield County to support Malloy. Watch “Protect” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbgGtE7Kfds.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: Gov. John Hickenlooper has shown real leadership on gun violence prevention policies, and he has been re-elected on a night that was difficult for Democrats around the country. ARS PAC ran a statewide digital turnout effort in Colorado to support Gov. Hickenlooper. After targeting and modeling, ARS PAC found that we could talk to certain drop-off voters, including a focus on the Hispanic electorate.

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: New Hampshire has a long history of gun ownership and a proud hunting culture. But To that end,  ARS PAC research found that 86% of Granite Staters favored background checks.ARS PAC supported Senator Shaheen’s re-election through voter research, a statewide digital and a direct mail advertising campaign to Granite State voters. New Hampshire has a long history of responsible gun ownership and our research found that 86 percent of Granite State voters favor expanded background checks for firearms purchases.  ARS PAC conducted a three-piece mail program mail program to a targeted universe of Granite State voters to boost turnout among drop off voters who are likely to support Shaheen. In addition to its direct mail program, ARS PAC used digital advertising to reach voters using a digital ad feature featuring Sandy Hook parent David Wheeler, who thanks Sen. Shaheen for standing up to the gun lobby in a powerful and emotional ad. View ARS PAC’s digital ad here:http://youtu.be/j8SzfG8CDpE.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken: In 2008, Sen. Franken was elected to the U.S. Senate by a very narrow majority. In an effort to create momentum for Senator Franken, ARS PAC strategically released a five-piece flight of persuasion mail to coincide the distribution of early ballots. As a result, ARS PAC was able to target a narrow universe of 44,000 female swing voters in the Twin Cities suburbs and successfully increase the number of votes for Senator Franken. In addition to its direct mail program, ARS PAC used digital advertising to reinforce the message in our mail, and persuade voters to support Al Franken.

Rep. Gary Peters (MI SEN): ARS PAC ran radio in the Detroit media market in the final week of the campaign to support Congressman Peters’ Senate campaign.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02): ARS PAC was the first outside group to air a TV advertisement following the NH-02 primary. After our research showed a tight race with the now-defeated Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia, ARS PAC ran 10 days of broadcast and cable TV that helped push Kuster to a big lead. ARS PAC aired a 30-second ad, “Strange Ideas,” highlighting Garcia’s opposition to closing loopholes that allow domestic abusers, stalkers and the dangerously mentally ill to buy guns. Watch “Strange Ideas” here:http://youtu.be/EF5INgQBbkQ. In addition to its TV advertising, ARS PAC used targeted digital advertising to reach undecided voters most likely to be receptive to ARS PAC’s message on reducing violence and open to supporting Congresswoman Kuster.

Republican Senator Susan Collins (ME SEN): Of the four Republican senators who supported the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation in 2013, Sen. Collins was the only one up for re-election in 2014. In recognition of her leadership, ARS PAC aired “Steady for Maine” on behalf of Sen. Collins’ re-election for two weeks on broadcast and cable. Watch “Steady for Maine” here:http://bit.ly/1ts6e7e. ARS PAC also leveraged digital advertising to reach Maine voters.

Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08): Republican Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick was one of the few House Republicans to cosponsor background checks legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. ARS PAC aired “Not Afraid to Lead” on behalf of Congressman Fitzpatrick’s re-election for two weeks on broadcast and cable in the Philadelphia media market early in the race to ensure his race did not become competitive. Watch “Not Afraid to Lead” here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6rI9p1pks8. In addition to TV advertising on behalf of Rep. Fitzpatrick, ARS PAC ran digital advertisements to key voters in the district.

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Gabby Giffords’ Statement on the Re-Election of John Hickenlooper as Colorado Governor

November 4, 2014 - Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Cofounder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, issued the following statement on the re-election of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:

“Two years ago, John Hickenlooper led the charge to pass commonsense legislation that makes Colorado families and communities safer from gun violence. Today, Colorado voters have spoken that they want a Governor who will be a steady voice for common sense and responsible gun ownership. I have no doubt John Hickenlooper will continue to be a true leader on laws that make our communities safer from gun violence.”

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Gabby Giffords Statement on the Victory of Initiative 594 to Close Gun Check Loopholes in Washington Stat

November 4, 2014- Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, issued the following statement after Washington State voters approved Initiative 594, which will close the loopholes in the state’s gun background check system:

”It’s no surprise that the people of the Evergreen State did the responsible thing: they stood up to the corporate gun lobby and stood up for a commonsense law that will make their communities safer. Tonight, Washington voters showed that when Americans are given the chance to vote to close the loopholes that let guns fall into the wrong hands, common sense wins. They also showed that while the gun lobby can intimidate politicians in Washington, it’s a lot harder to intimidate America’s voters. This victory for responsibility in Washington State sends a clear message to the other Washington that if Congress is not ready to act to reduce gun violence, voters in states around the country can and will take the matter into their own hands. Leaders in Washington, D.C. should take note.”

ARS PAC PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS: INITIATIVE 594

Targeted Direct Mail Persuasion Campaign: Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC (ARS PAC) executed a highly targeted direct mail campaign to residents of Washington State clarifying the differences between Initiatives 594 and 591.

To determine which households should receive these mail pieces, ARS performed a randomized controlled experiment in conjunction with its partners. In the experiment, a random sample of likely voters were divided into two groups: one of the groups was sent four pieces of mail, and the other group received no mail and served as a control. Voters in both groups were surveyed by phone to determine their views on the initiatives. Based on survey responses combined with voter-registration and consumer data, every voter in the state received scores indicating how likely the mail would be to change their mind, and by how much.

Based on the survey responses, each Washington voter’s expected response to these mail pieces was modeled, indicating whether their support for 591 and 594 could be expected to increase or decrease as a result of the mail. ARS and its partners then sent mail only to likely voters whose support of 594 was expected to increase, and whose support of 591 was expected to decrease.

Among the group of voters surveyed, ARS PAC’s mail pieces increased voter support of I-594 by 8.2 percentage points, and decreased their support of 591 by 5.4 percentage points among the individuals modeled as mail-receptive. If these rates from the experimental group held in the population at large, ARS PAC’s mail program in Washington would have changed the minds of nearly 20,000 likely voters on initiative 594, and nearly 13,000 on initiative 591.

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