Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy is testing the political effectiveness of his push for stricter gun laws in Ohio, a battleground for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and a state that could help decided control of the Senate.
In an odd pairing, Murphy is trying to help elect Ted Strickland, a Democrat who was once one of the fiercest defenders of Second Amendment rights on Capitol Hill. A former governor and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Strickland wants to unseat Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
Murphy helped stir up enthusiasm at two Clinton campaign headquarters yesterday.
On Monday he hosted round tables in Cincinnati and Columbus with Strickland on “commonsense gun safety laws.”
At one time the National Rifle Association awarded Strickland an “ A-plus” for his defense of gun rights and Portman only an “A.”
As a member of the House of Representatives, Strickland voted against the 1994 assault weapons ban. The year before, he had voted against the Brady Bill, which created the FBI’s background check system for gun buyers.
But Strickland said the shooting at Newtown of 20 first-graders and six educators, the massacre at a Charleston, S.C., church and other mass slayings with firearms have changed his mind about gun control.
“There are a lot of leaders in this country who are re-evaluating their position on guns,” Murphy said.
To Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, there’s a political reason for Strickland’s change of heart.
“For years, Ted Strickland was a pro-Second Amendment candidate who did well in culturally conservative parts of Ohio,” Kondik said. “Now he’s just trying to get Clinton voters to support him in his increasingly challenging race against Rob Portman.”
Yet Murphy said that even he changed his attitude toward gun control after the Newtown slayings.
“I went from not spending a lot of time on the issue to spending a lot of time on the issue,” he said.
Murphy boosted his profile on gun control with a 15-hour filibuster in the Senate this summer that captured national attention and forced GOP leaders to allow votes on gun legislation.
That legislation failed to garner enough votes, but Clinton signed on to the campaign to expand FBI background checks to individual sales at gun shows and on the internet and to ban those on the terrorism watch list from owning a gun.
“If you can’t fly, you shouldn’t buy,” Clinton said during her debate with Trump last week.
Murphy says that Ohio, a bellwether state in the presidential elections, is no different than Connecticut — and the rest of the nation — when it comes to support for expanding FBI background checks.
“It’s the most obvious piece of legislation that could be passed in the next Congress,” he said. Murphy planned to attend a joint campaign event with Strickland and Clinton late Monday afternoon in Newark, Ohio. Murphy said he was asked to come to Ohio by the Clinton and Strickland campaigns.
Kondik said, “I don’t think these surrogate visits are all that impactful.”
Still, Murphy, who represented Newtown when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, has a compelling story to tell.
And the Connecticut senator could benefit if Strickland wins. Ohio is one of eight states with competitive Senate races that could decide whether Democrats win the additional four or five seats they need to control the chamber — and propel their members into positions of power.
Polls show Clinton and Trump are running neck-and-neck in Ohio, and Portman, who continues to oppose an expansion of gun purchaser background checks, has expanded his lead to more than 10 percent.