MO Senate race: Democratic vet's gun ad goes viral, but can it win votes?

Jason Kander, a Missouri senate hopeful, released a video that has nearly a million views of himself assembling a rifle blindfolded while explaining his support for background checks. 

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander is a Democrat with a gun, an image he portrayed through a recent popular ad that showed him assembling a rifle blindfolded in 30 seconds. But Mr. Kander also explains in the same ad a seemingly contrary idea – his support for background checks.

“In the Army I learned how to use and respect my rifle,” Kander, who is vying for a Senate seat, said in the video. “In the state legislature, I supported Second Amendment rights. I also believe in background checks so that terrorists won’t get their hands on one of these.”

The video, released on Sept. 15, has since garnered more than 900,000 views on Youtube and some have called it one of the best campaign ads of the cycle, with even some Republicans calling the ad powerful, according to Roll Call. Few politicians have shown such familiarity with the rifle as Kanders does, and part of the allure also lies in that the video was a response Kander made to attacks from his opponent Sen. Roy Blunt (R), who never served in the US armed forces.

“Given his service background and what he’s trying to portray as a gun rights candidate ... this is memorable and likely effective," GOP ad-maker Ben Burger told Roll Call.

Gun control is a sensitive subject, especially in this increasingly polarized political climate. Kander’s ad is unusual in that he seemed to be seeking a middle ground – showing that gun control advocacy and support of the right to bear arms need not be mutually exclusive. 

This sort of aisle-crossing in the normally fiercely partisan topic of gun control might be more common in the future, as The Christian Science Monitor Francine Kiefer reported in August, as politicians try to find a middle ground.

But in Kander's case, his opponent and the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful gun-rights group, are not buying it. Senator Blunt and the NRA  each released ads in response that highlighted Kander’s relationship with Hillary Clinton, low ratings with the NRA in protecting gun rights, and other traditionally liberal positions Kander takes on issues such as immigration.

His efforts to reach across the aisle might also be an uphill battle in the topic of gun control. The red state has few restrictions to purchase guns and the state legislature just passed a law on Sept. 14 that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

“Jason Kander has spent this campaign trying to change the subject, but this ad will remind Missourians that when the rubber meets the road Jason Kander is in lockstep with Hillary Clinton in support of her extreme positions,” Blunt’s spokesman Burson Snyder, said in a press release. “This is a very clear choice, no matter how much mud the Kander campaign slings.”

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in a statement reported by the Associated Press that the ad was aimed at distracting voters from Kander’s anti-Second Amendment voting record.

"It doesn't matter how skilled you are at assembling a rifle when you consistently vote against law-abiding citizens' constitutional right to self-defense," Baker said. "Voters will not be fooled. Jason Kander is just another politician lying about his record to get elected."

The ad may still have done its damage. Recent polls have shown him to be in a tight race with Blunt. USA Today reports that a super PAC associated with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has joined the fight against Kander – the first time it has waded into a Missouri race. Democrats are also gearing up their resources to help Kander win in this state.

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