GOP leaders in Nashville infuriated the NRA this year by refusing to go along with a bill to prevent businesses from banning guns on their property, and now the group is using its deep pockets to try to unseat one of them. Elsewhere, NRA-backed measures also ran into Republican roadblocks in Georgia, Alabama, Idaho and North Carolina this year.
The NRA notes recent successes in the legislatures of Virginia, Ohio and South Carolina, describing the recent setbacks as temporary.
“First of all the legislative process is rarely quick and is rarely pretty,” chief NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox said in a phone interview. “We certainly take the long view and we’re committed to bring this not only to Tennessee but across the country.”
The NRA is backing up its words with campaign cash in Tennessee, spending $75,000 in an effort to defeat the No. 3 Republican in the state House, Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville.
The effort includes a billboard that depicts Maggart shoulder to shoulder with Democratic President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in Tennessee.
“Defend Freedom — Defeat Maggart on August 2,” the sign says, referring to the date of the Republican primary. Early voting began Friday.
The NRA contribution is equal to more than half of Maggart’s campaign balance of $147,000, and far exceeds the $10,000 that her challenger, Courtney Rogers, had on hand through the first half of the year. The gun rights group hasn’t supported any Democrats in Tennessee this campaign cycle.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga said the traditional alliance between Republican lawmakers and the NRA has had very little meaning in recent years.
“They’re our allies as long as it in their self-interest — and I don’t think it’s in their self-interest anymore,” McCormick said. “Now that we’re the governing party, they’re going to be critical. They’re never going to be satisfied.”
“They’re a fundraising organization, and their business plan is not to make politicians look good, it’s to have someone to criticize so they can generate more money,” he said.