Political Gun Battle Brews

American voters are emotionally affected by recent incidents of gun violence, and this sentiment will force the nation’s leaders to address the issue and find common ground, two political consultants predicted in Wheeling on Thursday.

Republican John Brabender of Brabender-Cox in Pittsburgh and Democrat Tad Devine of Devine-Mulvey in Washington addressed a meeting of West Liberty University’s Economics Club at River City restaurant in downtown Wheeling. Brabender has handled national political campaigns for Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Rudolph Guiliani, and he is known in West Virginia for his work consulting on the political campaigns of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin.

Devine, meanwhile, was a senior adviser for the presidential campaigns of Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

Most recently, Devine has been producing advertising for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s political action committee “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.” The advertising was credited for influencing this week’s special Democrat primary election for U.S. House in the Chicago area – where a candidate favoring more strict gun-control laws was victorious.

“I’ve seen this issue for several years now, and we made very little progress – from our perspective,” Devine said. “But things have changed in recent days and months on the issue of gun safety. I think what happened in Utah and Connecticut was a pivotal moment, and it has changed the minds and hearts of a lot of people. And it has really affected voters. And when you affect voters like that, you affect leaders easily.”

Devine predicts members of Congress will be able to find common ground on specific gun-control issues – such as an increase in the requirements for background checks for potential gun owners and banning large ammunition clips. He does not think, however, lawmakers would vote to make possession of automatic weapons illegal.

Brabender added he was very disappointed in President Barack Obama for focusing on gun violence tragedies during his recent State of the Union address.

“My concern is this president is leveraging what is a tragedy in this country – and a very emotional issue – and using that for a liberal agenda that he has had since day one,” Brabender said. “I agree with Tad wholeheartedly that there are many areas we should look at and find common ground, and that we can do better than we are doing.”

He noted there is not enough talk about the effect of popular culture on gun violence.

“If we would just enforce the law we already have, it would make a difference,” Brabender continued.

Speaking on other issues, Brabender listed Capito among his favorite clients and added his firm expected “to have a lot of fun over the next two years with her” as she seeks the seat currently occupied by the retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. He said he plans to have her talk about West Virginia values versus Washington values, and added she seems very sincere on camera.

“She’s hard to label – that’s why she’s hard to beat,” Brabender said.

Devine said he doesn’t think there is a Democrat candidate who could run against Capito.