The Bulletin

GOP strategist says no regrets on adjourning gun special session after 90 minutes

By: - November 13, 2019 12:23 pm

The Virginia State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Was the decision to adjourn a special session called to address gun violence legislation after only 90 minutes a fatal tactical error for state Republicans?

Matt Moran, the former chief of staff to outgoing Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox, who won his race, says it’s the most asked question he’s gotten since his party lost majorities in the House and Senate. And during a post-election de-brief sponsored by the Virginia Public Access Project on Tuesday evening, he said he has no regrets:

I think there was broad agreement at the time that that was the right strategic play. And sitting here a week after Election Day, I don’t second guess that decision. And I frame it like this: If the legislature had actually taken up some legislation and passed some legislation and sent it to the governor’s desk, would it have changed the outcome? Are there voters that would have then held their nose about the president and Republicans writ large and everything else said, ‘You know what, that guy, he took a stand. I’m going to vote for him.’

I don’t think the answer is yes. I don’t think that would have changed anything. Certainly, a major issue in the campaign. And maybe this is where we can all be a little bit cynical about politics. Republicans expanded Medicaid. Democrats this year spent millions of dollars attacking our candidates for not expanding Medicaid sooner.

The executive director of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Kristina Hagen, represented Democrats at the annual post-election event. Moderator Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Public Policy and Government at George Mason University, asked whether guns were “really the issue you thought they would be in Virginia Beach,” where Democrats lost to Republican Sen. Bill DeSteph, a federally licensed gun dealer.

Hagen said she believes the outcome came down more to the partisan-makeup of the district, which Trump won in 2016 with 51 percent of the vote. But she said she believes the issue played a bigger role in the Richmond suburbs, where Democrats had a bigger partisan advantage and won one of two seats they needed to take a majority in the Senate.

As it turns out, I don’t think we lost that race on guns by any stretch. I think the partisanship in that particular district just wasn’t where we would have needed it to be. So, I don’t think that was a race where the gun issue was make or break for us.

In that specific situation, it just kind of ended up — again the district was not where we needed it to be, whereas if you look to the Richmond suburbs, where both Sen. Sturtevant and Sen. Dunnavant, frankly, very much moderated their positions on guns. I think Sen. Dunnavant was able to do it in a way that came across as — she was very sincere in her ad, talking about a federal ban on bump stocks. Whereas, quite interestingly, four years ago in 2015 we had a lot of money that came in from Bloomberg in the final weeks of that race … and frankly that ended up hurting us, whereas this time around, I don’t think it did in that instance — Senate District 10. So there was a shift there, where guns went from being a bad issue for us to run on to one that, even the Republicans were on our side on when push came to shove.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.