Earlier this year, I did a lengthy series for Think Progress detailing how the National Rifle Association's power to influence elections is wildly overestimated by nearly everyone in Washington (here's Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). The group's advocates argued that I was wrong, and in fact the NRA retains the ability to get its friends elected and defeat its enemies. So how did they do in this year's election?
The answer is, abysmally. The Sunlight Foundation put together data on outside spending from a variety of interest groups, and the data show how poorly the NRA did. At the top of the ticket, of course, they failed to defeat the man whom they have promised is coming to take everyone's guns (despite the fact that he is not actually coming to take anyone's guns). Through their two political committees, the Political Victory Fund and the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA spent $13.4 million on the presidential race, to no avail. But the Senate is where their futility was really striking.
There were eight Senate races—in Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia, and Maine—where the organization spent over $100,000. They lost seven of the eight. The only Senate winner to whom the NRA gave significant money was Jeff Flake of Arizona, and it would be hard to argue that they made much of a difference in his race. Flake got $322,000 of NRA money spent on his behalf, which might seem like a lot until you learn that there was over $21 million dollars of outside money spent in the Arizona race. Add in spending by Flake and Democrat Richard Carmona, and the NRA accounted for about 1 percent of total spending, far too little to make a real difference in a race Flake looks to have won by 3 points (Arizona has taken an unusually long time counting all the ballots, but it seems like they're just about finished).
And that was their best result of the night. Everywhere else, the NRA found defeat. They spent over a million dollars trying to defeat Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio; he won by five points. They spent over $700,000 in Virginia supporting George Allen; Democrat Tim Kaine won that race by five points. They spent $670,000 trying to defeat Senator Bill Nelson of Florida; he won by nearly 13 points.
I haven't looked systematically at the House results yet, but a cursory glance suggests that the results there are similar to what they usually are: the NRA doesn't spend very much money on individual House races, and most of their endorsements go to safe Republican incumbents. While they did endorse a few dozen non-incumbents this year, I doubt you'll be able to find many—or even any—races where you could say with any confidence that they made a difference in the outcome.
To all this, the NRA would probably respond, "Well, this was just a bad election for Republicans. That's not our fault." But that's precisely the point. When Republicans do well, the NRA is happy to take credit, but when Republicans do poorly, they say they had nothing to do with it. They're right about that, but the same applies to Republican victories: they had nothing to do with it.
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